The Army Corps of Engineers was right to side with tribal treaty rights in rejecting a Whatcom County coal port.

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THE U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ rejection of a massive coal port at Cherry Point in Whatcom County was an unequivocal affirmation of tribal rights and treaties.

In denying the permits sought by SSA Marine of Seattle to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal, Monday’s decision was grounded in three points:

The Corps restated the Lummi Nation’s right to fish and crab in its usual and accustomed areas, to the time and style of fishing, and protected its potential future fishing rights.

All three rights, the decision noted, would be impaired or eliminated by SSA’s plans to build a 3,000-foot-long wharf, a 1,285-foot-long trestle, three ship berths and a new vessel approach.

The 34-page decision was also a timely reminder about the solid foundation upon which tribal treaty rights exist. They are not rights granted, but rights reserved.

The Lummis are part of the Treaty of Point Elliott from 1855. Such treaties are accorded precedence equal to federal law. They take precedence over state constitutions, law and judicial decisions, the decision notes.

A historic federal case from 1974, known as the Boldt decision, made the tribes co-managers of Washington fisheries.

Monday’s decision, signed by Michelle Walker, chief of the corps’ regulatory branch, acknowledges the commercial, subsistence and spiritual purposes linked to fishing and the tribes.

The climate change realities linked to coal cannot be ignored.”

The implosion of plans for the massive coal terminal hardly rocks the future of coal. Deep tremors have already shaken the industry. The Obama administration placed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land. Existing leases might cover 20 years of demand.

Coal companies are going bankrupt and evading land restoration and cleanup obligations. Coal prices took a dive.

The climate change realities linked to coal cannot be ignored. Even China, a presumed big market, is rethinking its great walls of coal pollution.

The prospects of massive coal trains had nurtured fearful concerns in communities along the route from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Ferndale. No doubt city halls hailed the corps’ rejection of permits for the coal port.