Native Americans Opposition to Coal Exports Helps Wildlife

Something has changed in the fight against coal exports.

It’s not that all of a sudden Native Americans are raising their voices in opposition to coal.

What’s new is that the agencies responsible for approving or rejecting coal exports are listening.


The New York Times has been detailing the opposition of Native American tribes to northwest coal exports since 2012.

Yet Tribal objection, like the objections of conservationists and sportsmen alike, has seemingly been not enough to stop coal in its tracks.

The Corps of Engineers doesn’t feel the need to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement review, despite the tons of coal dust and acid rain getting ready to roll into our waters as a result. And just this spring the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved three coal export permits as if it were business as usual.

Yet now, when Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber made his most recent comment on coal exports, he proclaimed his opposition to coal and the grounds he cited was “that the proposed facility would destroy at least three Native American fishing sites protected by the treaty.”

What the Governor is referring to is the Treaty of 1855 between the United States and the Yakama Nation that guarantees, in exchange for land and peace offered by the Yakama, that the Yakama people would forever enjoy the right to fish in all their usual and accustomed places, and the right to live free of damages to those rights. What that means is that not only must our governments allow traditional tribal fishing, but they must also preserve those traditional fisheries and the habitat they require.

Importantly, only the Governor’s rhetoric has changed, so far. We have not yet seen one single coal export permit rejected. We’ve got to keep up the pressure on these decision makers and hold them accountable.

But the fact that Governor Kitzhaber is acknowledging his duties to uphold tribal treaty rights and highlighting those rights is exceptional.

And if coal exports are halted as a direct result, than not only will we have Governor Kitzhaber to thank, but of course the Yakama Nation, and other tribal leaders as well, for taking a stand that benefits us all.

You can learn more about NWF’s campaign against coal exports here.

Take ActionAnd please take action to make your voice heard, protecting the orca, the salmon, and all the creatures that need our clean water free from coal pollution.


Michael O’Leary of Portland, Oregon is an Outreach Consultant for National Wildlife Federation working on coal export and renewable energy issues in the Pacific Northwest, where he’s been a political organizer for over 15 years. Michael is a certified cycling instructor and a certifiable bike enthusiast, and can often be found on two wheels, rain or shine.