SEATTLE (AP) — Several U.S. tribal leaders told Canadian energy regulators Wednesday that increased tanker traffic from a proposed pipeline expansion project would harm endangered orcas, natural resources and their cultural way of life.
The contentious Trans Mountain project would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast, and increase tanker traffic from about 60 to more than 400 vessels annually through the Salish Sea – the inland waters of Canada and U.S. that are also critical feeding grounds for the endangered orcas.
Leaders from four Native American tribes in Puget Sound, Washington, traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, to testify before Canada's National Energy Board as the panel reconsiders the impact of marine shipping from the pipeline project, as ordered by a Canadian court.
Canada's government last summer bought the project from Houston-based Kinder Morgan, saying it is in Canada's national interest and key to diversifying oil exports beyond the U.S.
In August, Canada's Court of Appeals halted the project, saying the government failed to adequately consult with indigenous peoples. The court ordered the energy board to reconsider the project's impacts from marine shipping.
Bill James, hereditary chief of the Lummi Nation near Bellingham, said the mother orca that pushed her dead calf in waters for days over the summer was giving everyone a sign.
“The blackfish are dying around us,'' he told them, according to an audio livestream of the hearing. “The pipeline is going to affect each and every one of us.''
He reminded the board their decisions will not just affect people but plants, trees, animals, birds, water and air.
Jeremy Wilbur, a senator with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community near Anacortes, Washington, said he and his family have fished the Salish Sea for several generations. He said increased marine shipping will make it harder for them to fish and make a living, and also threatens orcas, salmon and other species.
In 2016, the NEB found that project-related marine vessels would “likely to result in significant adverse effects to the Southern resident killer whale.'' But the court said the board erred when it didn't consider vessel traffic and its effects on southern resident killer whales, which are protected under Canada's Species at Risk Act.
The energy board's chief environmental officer, Robert Steedman, said last month that the reconsideration hearing “will be a comprehensive scientific and technical examination of project-related marine shipping.''
“Permitting the Trans Mountain pipeline will imperil our waters by introducing more oil onto our Salish Sea,'' Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, said before Wednesday's hearing. “We've come up here to join our neighboring First Nations to try to stop the project.''
Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has opposed the pipeline expansion, saying it runs counter to efforts to fight climate change and protect orcas.
Officials with state Department of Ecology also told the energy board in a letter last month that it must consider impacts to southern resident killer whales and the treaty-protected fishing rights of Washington tribes.
The agency and tribal representatives also expressed concern that the board is limiting review of marine shipping only to Canadian waters. They urged the board to consider impacts of marine shipping along the entire route, including in U.S. waters.
An energy board spokesman said Wednesday that the board will consider the environmental effects of the pipeline expansion, even if they occur outside of Canada.
“Although only Project-related marine shipping within Canada's territorial sea is to be considered as part of the ‘designated project,' environmental effects from that shipping occurring outside of the territorial sea can still be considered by the Board, including certain trans-boundary effects,'' James Stevenson, communications officer with the board, said in an email.
THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — After more a year of obstacles, the federal government will resume a project to fulfill an 80-year-old promise. The Trump administration halted work in October 2017 on a plan to build a village for tribal members who fished the Columbia River for millennia, but last week, money reappeared in the budget.
“We're so delighted by the White House's decision to restore and direct funds to the Columbia River tribal housing initiative,'' said Charles Hudson, intergovernmental affairs director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “We did a lot of scratching and clawing to keep this project active after a year of lapsed funding.''
Leaders from the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes have lobbied along with Congressional officials from Oregon and Washington to find a way to circumvent the barriers the Trump administration put in the way, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
A year ago, tribal members who live along the Columbia River were cautiously optimistic that the federal government was making good on one of its promises. Starting with the Bonneville Dam in the 1930s, the federal government flooded villages where tribal members lived. Many of those villages were centers of economic, social and religious importance.
The federal government said it would replace the flooded homes, but never did.
Now, many people live six months to year-round at fishing sites built by the government that are decrepit, unsafe and unsanitary. The Oregonian/OregonLive documented the conditions and how the federal government's unmet obligation to the tribes forced them into these conditions even while a town of predominantly white people was relocated.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats, spearheaded the effort to prod the government to replace the housing. They devised a plan with the Army Corps to pay for the work in two funding cycles. The first went forward in 2016.
But a second infusion of cash was blocked by Mick Mulvaney, head of the federal Office of Management and Budget, last year. He claimed that he wasn't required to approve the money and he didn't like the way it would be moved around the Corps' budget.
Tribal representatives and Washington and Oregon lawmakers pleaded with Mulvaney and his staff to reconsider.
But eventually, they found a way around the office. In a bill that dictates Army Corps priorities, they added language compelling the federal government to plan and build the villages.
Merkley and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee and added more than $1.8 million to a separate funding bill without any dictates of how it must be used. A bipartisan and bi-state group of lawmakers wrote a letter to R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army, and Mulvaney to suggest the $1.8 million be used to finish the village planning.
The Army Corps, which had signaled willingness to start the work since 2016, added The Dalles Dam village plan to its project list of 2019 with the $1.8 million.
“Now that the latest investment is in place, we will continue holding federal agency officials accountable to ensure that the plan is not only completed, but also carried out so tribal members get the facilities and river access they were promised more than 65 years ago,'' Murray said.
Merkley said Monday that he wants The Dalles village to move forward first, but it is not the last of his efforts. He and other lawmakers want to start the same momentum for villages at the Bonneville and John Day dams.
“It was an unnecessary delay and I'm really pleased to see we've been able to get the legislation in place to push it forward,'' Merkley said.
The money is needed to figure out where a village could be located near The Dalles Dam and how it would look. The Army Corps and a committee of tribal members had identified three Washington sites in 2016, but now need to figure out if they will still work. The site could end up on the Oregon side of the river.
The locations would need to be assessed for feasibility and environmental concerns. Tribal members are supposed to be involved at every step of the process, such as deciding whether the housing will be individual homes with covered garages, like at Celilo Village, or multi-family units.
Celilo Village, where 15 permanent homes take the place of one of oldest continually inhabited tribal centers in the world, took decades to build, but is considered a sign of success that could be replicated in this new effort.
Modern-day Celilo Village has 15 houses with good insulation and garages big enough for fishing gear. But, it took 50 years and several iterations to get housing there right.
After the decisions are made, the plans would be subject to public input. The Army Corps would also perform preliminary engineering, according to Corps spokeswoman Sarah Bennett.
All that work was expected to be done in 2016 -- or shortly after. But now, the delay could add years to the project planning.
The Corps will have to ask for more money to actually build the village once all the planning is completed. There is no estimate of the cost yet.
At the same time, a stand-alone bill is in its final stages to fix up the existing 31 fishing sites. The sites are maintained and operated by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which took on the task because no one else was doing it. The fish commission largely focuses on salmon restoration and managing tribal fishing on the Columbia River.
The money to maintain the sites is quickly running out because it was created with estimates that undercounted how many people would use the sites. The Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act would allow the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to evaluate what improvements are needed at the sites and how much money it would take to bring them up to a safe, sanitary standard.
The bill has already passed out of the Senate and is on the House floor awaiting a vote. From there, it would go straight to the president's desk to be signed into law.
“The Trump Administration has been putting up barriers to this project for too long and I'm glad they've finally decided to allow progress,'' said Blumenauer. “While this process moves forward, they should also work with Congress to rebuild faith with the tribes and pass my legislation to improve conditions at the current in-lieu and treaty fishing access sites for those without housing.''
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis officials are stepping up efforts to get residents to leave a large homeless camp as cold weather sets in.
Crews from the Minneapolis Fire Department set up a heated army tent Wednesday across the street from the encampment. The tent will serve as a dining hall and meeting space for some 200 people still living at the camp in south Minneapolis.
The Star Tribune reports the warming tent is part of an effort to persuade people to leave the camp and move to a new, nearby emergency shelter by mid-December.
Outreach workers say people living at the camp have been spending more time in their tents or in warmer areas, such as public libraries and light-rail cars.
The camp has housed as many as 300 people, mostly American Indians.