Take It From the Lummis…

“Take it from the Lummis (which describes their story in a nutshell) regarding the wisdom of believing promises sworn to by the government, or by the corporations pulling its (purse) strings.”

So begins this month’s “Just Thinking” column in the Whatcom Watch by my good friend Philip Damon. Phil’s column this month, “Spare Us Those Empty Promises” is about a recent dramatic presentation by the Lummi tribe “depicting the infamous 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott and its shameful aftermath.”

Phil connects the dots between the drama’s history lesson, the current coal port controversy (proposed to be located at Cherry Point, which is considered to be one of the most important and ancient village sites for the Lummi tribe), and the legal and moral message that the Lummis have for us today.

Along the same lines, this month’s Whatcom Watch also has a VERY special 8 page insert authored by Jewell Praying Wolf James, of the Lummi Indian Tribe.  The insert is titled The Search for Integrity in the Conflict Over Cherry Point as a Coal Export Terminal.”

This is a powerful document. Damon calls it “remarkable.” Sightline Daily’s Eric De Place calls it “mandatory reading.”

When reading, I was reminded of the scoping hearings for the terminal, and that after hearing hundreds of excellent comments from a wide variety of community stakeholders, the testimony from Lummi tribal members seemed qualitatively different. They were simultaneously intelligent, coherent, insightful, moral, and spiritual. I was made to feel that because of their presence and the way they carried themselves and presented their input, I was on holy ground. There was a sense of gravitas.

A similar effect was felt when I read the news story about the ceremony they held at Cherry Point last September in opposition to the proposed terminal, and saw the dramatic photos of them burning a large facsimile of a million-dollar check, labeled “Non Negotiable” – indicating they would not be bought off.

 Members of the Lummi Nation protest the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point by burning a large check stamped "Non-Negotiable." The tribe says they want to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the site. Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/northwest-tribes-step-up-opposition-to-proposed-coal-terminals.

Members of the Lummi Nation protest the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point by burning a large check stamped “Non-Negotiable.” The tribe says they want to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the site.
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/northwest-tribes-step-up-opposition-to-proposed-coal-terminals.

The effect was felt once again when looking at the official letter from the tribe in its “unconditional and unequivocal opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.” I love how they outline 3 Principles that have influenced their decision making process. 1) “Everything is Connected” – enduring well-being is connected to healthy land, water, and environment.  2)  “We must manage our resources for the seventh generation of our people” – irresponsibility now could mean stealing from our grandchildren. 3) “As a tribal government, we have adopted the critical goal that we must preserve, promote and protect our “Schelangen” (“way of life”).”  These principles resonate with my affinity for David Holmgren’s Permaculture Ethics and Principles (which Holmgren himself acknowledged were deeply influenced by his sense of the principles “common to all indigenous tribal peoples”).

But this 8 page insert in the Whatcom Watch takes the effect to another level.  Jewell James gives us a history lesson, a legal lesson, a moral lesson, a spiritual lesson. He takes us back 200 years, and we work our way forward to where we are today, followed by an eloquently delivered “Sacred Obligation” (“Xa xalh Xechnging”).

As Phil Damon points out, we have taken from the Lummis for far too long. It’s time we slow down, listen, and consider. It’s time to now take the wisdom that they offer.  Please set aside some time to read this valuable contribution by Jewell Praying Wolf James. You can pick up copies at a number of distribution points in Whatcom County, or find it online.  I’ll share a couple of teaser quotes to get you started.

The Search for Integrity in the Conflict Over Cherry Point as a Coal Export Terminal

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a Lummi tribal member and director of the Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office…

We are living in a fast-paced society and rarely take the time to reflect upon the truths behind the laws that govern us. We are, one and all, proud to be law-abiding citizens. We operate under the assumption that the law is just, reasonable, and fair, and that no person stands above it. But how many people understand — or have even been introduced to — the important role Native Americans played in the governance of the American Nation?

I hope through the medium of history to give voice to a silenced history. In this article we will move through time, from first contact between European-Americans and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, in 1492, to the present conflict over Cherry Point. Along the way, I hope to inform the reader about some of the laws, political realities, and administrative procedures that benefit corporate interests more favorably than either tribal rights or the greater public good. Just as important, I hope to show how the general public can influence the final outcome of this search for integrity.

Read More:


Thanks to Phil Damon for the title of this post.

The Window is Closing on Coal…According to Goldman Sachs!

Richards Bay Coal PortIf you live in Whatcom County, you’ve probably heard the recent news about  Gateway Pacific Terminal – the proposed coal port at Cherry Point. First we heard that the state Environmental impact Statement will included the broad level of scoping that opponents of the port have asked for, including the end-use impacts of burning the coal in China.  Next we heard that the Lummi Nation has sent an official letter stating its unequivocal opposition to the terminal. According to the Bellingham Herald’s John Stark, this in itself “could stop the federal permit process for the coal terminal dead in its tracks.” Treaty rights have the power of federal law, and the Corps of Engineers recognize this: “If the Lummis come to that position, it will make us reassess the direction we are going,” [Army Corps of Engineers regulatory branch chief Muffy] Walker said. “We have denied permits in the past, based on tribal concerns.”

And then there was the announcement that SSA Marine is paying $1.65 million to settle a lawsuit over land clearing that was done on the site without permits, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

So things are not looking so great at the moment for SSA Marine, the corporation wanting to build the port. To make matters worse – to add insult to injury – Goldman Sachs itself seems to be “piling on.” This is especially significant, because it is estimated that Goldman Sachs owns about a 49% to 51% share of SSA Marine, and is the source of capital for their infrastructure investments!

On July 24, Goldman Sachs issued a commodities report titled “The Window for Thermal Coal investment is Closing.” They are seeing a sharp decline in overseas demand and are projecting significant price declines through 2017.  For the longer term they see a peak in seaborne demand by 2020, with a gradual erosion of coal’s “current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation.”

Goldman Sachs Headquarters, New York City

Goldman Sachs Headquarters, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They are seeing the following trends:
1) environmental regulations that discourage coal-fired generation, 2) strong competition from gas and renewable energy and 3) improvements in energy efficiency.
In contrast to the shortages seen in China when the coal terminal was proposed in 2011, the outlook has transformed in a short period of time and China is now seen to be over-supplied.  The Goldman Sachs report is projecting that for the duration of their forecast period, both prices and demand for seaborne coal will remain low.  Therefore they expect import levels into China to decline over the coming years.
This cannot be good news for the proposed largest coal exporting terminal in North America!
On page 14 of the report, a clear statement is made relative to the proposed terminal at Cherry Point:
Demand will be unable to absorb the entire project pipeline
Thermal coal is not constrained by a lack of geological resources; proven reserves of 861Gt are equivalent to over 100 years of consumption at current rates. The portfolio of growth options for thermal coal exports is correspondingly large.
In particular, there are several large scale projects where investment in rail and port infrastructure could unlock large basins that have either remained undeveloped or cut off from the export market [Exhibit 21 shows a map transporting coal from Powder River Basin from WA state to China]. The increase in seaborne supply from any of these basins would be in a range between 30Mtpa and 100Mtpa in order to optimize the large capital investment in infrastructure, in our view.
In the period 2008-12 when Chinese seaborne demand was increasing at an average rate of 32Mt per year, the market could have absorbed the staged development of new coal basins. However, in an environment of slowing growth, large scale projects can push the market into oversupply once they are added to the range of brownfield expansions. [emphasis mine]
I would challenge the statement that there are unconstrained resources. As Richard Heinberg has stated, “…as a tool for forecasting future supplies of nonrenewable resources such as coal or oil, the R/P [reserves to production] ratio is utterly worthless.”  [Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis].  However, the point here is that regardless of supply, the limit on production is currently seen to be demand reduction.
Clearly, this report is telling us that the proposed coal port at Cherry Point  does not make economic sense even to the analysts employed by the majority (or near majority) owner of SSA Marine.  Timing is crucial, they say.  Projects ready to go now (“year 0”) just might turn a profit. Projects that need 5 years to secure permits, complete construction will likely not be profitable.

Bottom line:

The prospect of weaker demand growth (we believe seaborne demand could peak in 2020) and seaborne prices near marginal production costs suggest that most thermal coal growth projects will struggle to earn a positive return for their owners.
Sorry SSA Marine!  Things aren’t looking so good right now.

Hat tip to Rick F. and Gary K. for alerting me to this report!

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