The front group took out a full-page ad in The Oregonian, asking the governor to approve the controversial natural gas terminal in southwestern Oregon
A pro-pipeline lobbying group calling itself Western States and Tribal Nations is spreading a message that directly opposes that stance of some Oregon tribes.
Over Memorial Day weekend, a full-page ad in The Oregonian declared itself an “Open Letter to Gov. Kate Brown From Western States and Tribal Nations.” The ad presented the Jordan Cove pipeline project as Oregon’s key to post-COVID-19 economic recovery and urged the governor to green-light pipeline construction through southwestern Oregon — which Brown has so far refused to do. Western States and Tribal Nations President Andrew Browning signed the letter. A spokesperson for Browning would not answer questions about whether Browning is Native American or works for any tribal governments.
Western States and Tribal Nations is a corporate lobbying group formed out of a company called Consumer Energy Alliance, where Browning is an executive. Consumer Energy Alliance was created by public relations firm HBW Resources, where Browning is a partner. Browning said in a statement on HBW Resources’ website that the company helps “corporations achieve more while serving our purpose: move energy forward.”
In the early 2000s, HBW Resources fought against the Obama administration’s low carbon fuel standards and supported the Alberta tar sands industry, which National Geographic called the “world’s most destructive oil operation.” Before leading the Denver office for HBW Resources, Browning was director of government relations at Canadian company Methanex, the world’s largest supplier of methane.
Oregon tribes oppose pipeline
The voices of actual tribal nations in Oregon sound a bit different.
“As far as the Klamath people are concerned, this pipeline (Jordan Cove) is a bad idea even if the price of gas were predicted to skyrocket,” wrote Don Gentry, chairperson of the Klamath Tribes, in The New York Times. “The Klamath people oppose this project because it puts at risk their watersheds, forests, bays, culture, spiritual places, homes, climate and future.” He suggested the pipeline and its proposed shipping terminal at Jordan Cove in Coos Bay could become “the next Standing Rock.”
The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians have filed for official recognition of Jordan Cove as a Traditional Cultural Property, which would grant state and federal protection under the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Coos people have continually utilized the Bay for fishing, gathering, ceremony, and where they are laid to rest,” the Confederated Tribes reported in their February 2019 newsletter. “The area detailed within the nomination are not just a series of separate archaeological sites, but a constellation of interrelated cultural areas with generations of Tribal subsistence, ceremony, and use.”
In 1856, the U.S. Army forcibly removed the Confederated Tribes from their lands. But the lands still bear their names.
“Jordan is a Tribal family name, tied to our history during settlement, coinciding with a time of loss and survival,” said the article in the newsletter, the Voice of CLUSI. “Jordan remains a name associated with our Tribe and Coos Bay places, like Jordan Cove.”
Formal recognition as a Traditional Cultural Property would not halt the pipeline project, per se, but it would require the pipeline company to conduct good faith consultations with the tribes through federal channels.
The goal of the pipeline is to move fracked gas out of the Piceance and Uinta basins in Colorado and Utah to a proposed liquid natural gas terminal in Coos Bay. From there, the gas would ship to buyers in Asia. The 229-mile pipeline would cross 485 bodies of water in the Klamath, Rogue, Umpqua, Coquille and Coos watersheds, according to the Sierra Club.
“Tribal lands and lands traditionally used by tribal members are the sites of construction of both the LNG Export Terminal and along 229 miles of pipeline,” wrote the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to Jordan Cove Energy Project in February. “The tribes recognize the high likelihood that the construction of the Project would destroy cultural resources, especially sacred grounds — grave sites and buried villages, as well as traditional cultural plants, animals, fish and marine life. The tribes have indicated that such losses would have serious emotional and cultural consequences for tribes and significant adverse impacts on their traditional way of life and economy, especially the loss of fishing and shellfish harvesting.”
Lobbying group says it has tribal support
Western States and Tribal Nations has the support of another Denver corporation called the Ute Energy Corp. Ute Energy works with the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, in northeastern Utah, to develop natural resources on tribal lands. The Ute Tribe has nearly 3,000 enrolled members — and at 6,769 square miles — it has the second-largest reservation in the country (second to the Navajo Nation). Their economy relies on oil, mineral and gas development across their land. It’s through this connection that HBW Resources claims itself to represent “Tribal Nations.”
“Anyone who finds WSTN’s name misleading would be willfully ignoring the fact that a sovereign tribal nation guided the foundation and vision of the organization from the start as a key stakeholder,” said an executive from HBW Resources and spokesperson for Western States and Tribal Nations. “They would also be discounting the multiple confidential conversations WSTN, which is led by state and county governments, and its stakeholders have had with many sovereign tribal nations about its mission of advancing tribal self-determination.”
Browning himself did not respond to requests for comment. Although Western States and Tribal Nations’ website list “Tribal Self Determination” among its guiding principles, it did not say whether it has spoken with any Oregon tribes.
“WSTN understands and respects that each sovereign tribal nation has its own interests and individual vision of what tribal self-determination is. That can lead to divergent viewpoints on issues of common interest. WSTN’s door is always open to support and facilitate constructive conversations that lead to greater understanding among all stakeholders including those whose viewpoint differs from ours.”
Neither HBW Resources nor its avatars, Consumer Energy Alliance and Western States and Tribal Nations, actually own the pipeline project. The project is owned by a Calgary-based company called Pembina.
HBW Resources said, “Pembina is not a member of WSTN and therefore, WSTN cannot comment on Pembina’s plans or operations.” Pembina did not respond to inquiries about the nature of their relationship with HBW Resources.
Pembina has federal approval — but not Brown’s
After a decade in the making, financial peril, a corporate merger and public protests, the Jordan Cove project lost wind as Brown and the state of Oregon denied the permits necessary to begin construction. Pembina responded by appealing to the federal government. In March, federal regulators approved the pipeline in a 2-1 vote. But, Brown reaffirmed her commitment to exercising state authority.
“I want to reiterate that I will not stand for any attempt to ignore Oregon’s authority to protect public safety, health, and the environment,” Brown said in a statement following the ruling. “Let me be clear to the concerned citizens of Southwest Oregon: Until this project has received every single required permit from state and local agencies, I will use every available tool to prevent the company from taking early action on condemning private property or clearing land.”
So far, state and tribal governments in Oregon have not backed down against Western States and Tribal Nations.