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Public, Tribal Pressure Predicted to Continue on Fossil-Fuel Transport Plans

PHOTO: Friends of the Columbia and the Center for Biological Diversity have said the current Northwest Area Contingency Plan isn't adequate to handle an increased risk of spills and explosions if oil and gas rail traffic increases in the region. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
PHOTO: Friends of the Columbia and the Center for Biological Diversity have said the current Northwest Area Contingency Plan isn't adequate to handle an increased risk of spills and explosions if oil and gas rail traffic increases in the region. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
September 29, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - About two dozen projects have been proposed in the past two years to move the Northwest toward becoming a transportation hub for coal, oil and gas to Asia.

A new Sightline Institute report examines the combination of rail shipment, pipeline and fuel-terminal proposals across Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Report author Eric de Place, Sightline's policy director, said public input is critical as local land-use agencies determine the fate of each project. Regionally, he said, he thinks Native American voices also will be important.

"My suspicion," he said, "is that we will see the tribes form a wall along the Pacific Northwest coast, saying, 'We're not going to allow coal, oil and gas to move forward.'"

Last week's meeting of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in Pendleton included a three-hour workshop on climate change. Last year, the coalition of 72 tribes passed a resolution opposing the transport and export of fossil fuels in the Northwest.

Deborah Parker, a council member of the Tulalip Tribes, said they are prepared to do more.

"It's not only our physical bodies, but it's also a spiritual connection that we have to the Earth," she said. "This is who we are as a people. And Big Oil threatens the entire ecosystem, which our people, our traditions and economy depend upon."

For the most part, she said, the tribes haven't been convinced that the job potential of the coal, oil and gas projects is significant enough to offset the damage to land, fish and wildlife.

De Place said the Sightline Institute research indicates if all the fuel-transport proposals are approved, the changes would increase the Northwest's carbon footprint by three to five times.

"I think it's fair to say that most people are astonished at the scale of the transformation that this region is about to embark on if fossil-fuel companies get their way, and that decision is all happening within the next couple of years," he said. "The scale is much, much bigger than most people realize."

The Sightline Institute report is online at sightline.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR