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Know the West

A coal terminal would bring profit to one tribe, damage to another

Photos of the communities for and against the proposed Washington port.


These images are part of an ongoing project to photograph coal in America. This particular series documents the Lummi and Crow Nations, communities a thousand miles apart that each have a stake in whether a new coal terminal is built off the Washington coast.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Washington, is currently under environmental review. If built, it would carry Wyoming and Montana coal to energy-hungry Asia. As many as 18 new freight trains would run back and forth each day from the Powder River Basin to the Washington terminal and two others.

For many Crow Indians, the thick coal seam running below their Montana reservation seems like a savior. With over half the adult population unemployed, and lacking adequate housing or healthcare, a new agreement to mine coal for export with Cloud Peak Energy, one of the world’s largest coal companies, could prove a lifeline for the tribe in the form of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet opposition to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has reached a fever pitch, with residents, mayors and environmental groups lining up to protest the pollution and traffic congestion that would accompany this new portal to the global fossil fuel trade. Ultimately, the fate of the Gateway Pacific Terminal may rest with the Lummi Indians, a Native American tribe in Puget Sound whose treaty rights under federal law guarantee them access to hunt and fish their native lands near the proposed terminal site. Many Lummi are concerned that the proposed coal terminal would pollute the fishing grounds they depend on and defile the ancient cultural sites that sustain their traditions.

Environmental reviews for the terminal are expected in 2016.