Indian Coal Economy has Suffered Because of EPA Regs, Tribes Say
Via the Billings Gazette:
CROW AGENCY — The coal economy on Indian reservations is being endangered by tougher Environmental Protection Agency clean air laws, tribal officials told U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Wednesday.
Members of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Navajo tribes met with Daines for a Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing on “empowering Indian Country.” Coal mining dominated the discussion, with challenges related to clean air laws and Pacific Coast shipping ports for coal taking center stage.
“The EPA clean power program is creating problems for Crow Nation,” said Darrin Old Coyote, Crow tribal chairman. “The EPA did not consult with Crow Nation, did not consider the economic impacts on Crow Nation and did not provide a less obtrusive alternative.”
A year ago, the EPA rolled out plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants. The regulations left coal-fired power plants in some states scrambling to come up with ways to cut emissions. The change was bad news for coal mined on the Crow Reservation by Westmoreland Coal Co., Old Coyote said. One power plant in Minnesota that uses Crow coal began cutting back.
A second issue for Crow coal is the permitting challenges facing two Washington state coal ports.
The Gateway Pacific terminal proposed for Puget Sound is opposed by several groups concerned about issues ranging from fish contamination to global warming.
The Lummi Tribe in Washington opposes Cherry Point port. Other opponents have called for studies of diesel exhaust particles from trains servicing the port and also coal dust.
Port proponents, including Old Coyote, say stringent Washington state environmental laws are creating delays and preventing the port from the federal review necessary for construction. Washington state law is effectively regulating interstate commerce, which should only be regulated by federal law.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said at the hearing that his office is tracking the permitting process of the Gateway Pacific terminal and the Millennium Project near Longview to make sure that Washington law doesn’t harm Montana coal trade.
Fox said he earlier intervened with Wyoming to appeal the denial of a permit for the Coyote Island Terminal in Oregon, which could have shipped Montana coal.
“The reason we have taken these steps is to ensure, as our sister states make their decisions regarding these port proposals, that our state’s constitutional right not to have the avenues of interstate commerce unduly burdened is fully protected,” Fox said.
The attorney general said that Asia buyers were the obvious alternative customers for Crow coal as domestic coal sales diminish.
There are only three Indian tribes that mine coal, the Crow, the Hopi and the Navajo.
Lorenzo Bates, of the Navajo Nation Council, said continued coal mining was important to creating jobs for his tribe.
“The Navajo Nation is the largest with a population over 300,000 members,” Bates said. “Less than half are able to make a living on the nation.”
Navajo high schools graduate 2,000 students a year, but reservation jobs are being added at a rate of fewer than 50 a year.
Daines said before and after the hearing that EPA regulations were clearly a problem for Indian coal sales. He also said it was time to make permanent the Indian Coal Production Tax credit, which makes mining Indian coal more lucrative for mining companies like Westmoreland.
Congress will address the permitting of Pacific Coast coal ports later this year by requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the required environmental impact study of the Cherry Point project by June 2016. The study, should it come back positive for permitting the coal terminal, will be one less obstacle for Montana coal exports, he said.
Daines said he invited the EPA to come to Crow Agency and testify at the hearing, but it did not respond.
The hearing drew a crowd of more than 100 spectators. Not all who looked on supported development of Indian coal.
“Our reservation is surrounded by big coal mines and the largest coal plant in the state,” said Alaina Buffalo Spirit, a Northern Cheyenne. “These have only brought us a worsened economy and destruction of our homeland.”
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- On April 10, 2015