Coal Wars in the Columbia Gorge, pt 2: The economies of place vs route

September 4, 2012

By Sean Aaron Cruz—In a guest opinion titled “Coal exports would help our struggling economy,” published in The Oregonian today, several supporters of proposals to bracket the Columbia River Gorge with new export coal terminals posit that the issue is about a choice, this choice:

      “Several private companies are proposing to build and upgrade shipping terminals in Washington and  Oregon for exporting coal from the Powder River basin of Montana and Wyoming. These proposals will provide a meaningful boost to our regional economy and will help create and protect hundreds of good-paying union jobs in construction, transportation and manufacturing….

      “But right now, we have a choice: Expand our Northwest export economy and grow employment and our tax revenue base, or watch new jobs and revenues go elsewhere.”

 Their language mirrors what we are seeing in the torrent of slick television ads that the international pro-coal interests are running, those who see the Columbia Gorge as a line on a map, as a line item on a profit and loss statement, as a route, in fact a cheaper route to somewhere else.

These same forces are at work fast-tracking the permitting processes, circumventing public meeting requirements, and weakening environmental rules everywhere they might apply to coal extraction and export.

They are asking the public to prioritize the Columbia River Gorge as an increasingly internationalized industrial corridor.

They restate what they say is “our choice” in terms of competition for jobs in an emerging international coal export industry unlike anything we have seen before:

“This is our choice: Will the Northwest benefit economically from the growing Asian demand for coal, or will people elsewhere? We believe people here should benefit.”

So far, this is the only job creation argument regarding the use of the Columbia River Gorge being put forward by either side, but there is another yet to be made, that of prioritizing the Columbia River Gorge as a place.

And in that place, recovering that natural, cultural, spiritual and economic wonder of the world, Celilo Falls, and protecting all things Celilo under the permanent stewardship of the Columbia River Treaty tribes, forever.

(Before I go any further with this, note that Celilo Falls remains submerged only to ease the passage of barge traffic, and that hydropower generation at The Dalles dam would be unaffected by the recovery of the Falls.)

The infrastructure construction jobs involved in moving and relocating I-84 and the railroad lines away from Celilo alone would dwarf the job creation arguments the pro-coal forces are putting forward.

Beyond that would be the economic growth in the City of The Dalles and elsewhere in the region, permanent, family-wage jobs at the gateway to one of the world’s greatest tourism draws.

This scene is no more than ten years away:

The Friends of Celilo Falls is forming. Announcements coming soon.




 The Militarization of Indian Country, by Winona LaDuke and Sean Cruz is now available, Second edition. Order from Honor the Earth:










About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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