Passamaquoddy Tribe Members Win Victory in Natural Gas Dispute
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 26, 2010
Madonna Soctomah 207-853-2895
Vera Francis 506-471-2474
SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- A group of Passamaquoddy Tribe members in Maine today received notice of an important decision by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to cancel a long-term lease for the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal on an area of Passamaquoddy land known as Split Rock. The decision represents a victory for both the group and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
On Friday, BIA cancelled the Passamaquoddy Tribe's fifty year lease with an Oklahoma-based company, Quoddy Bay LNG. BIA's decision comes in the wake of nearly five years of litigation and efforts by Nulankeyutmonen Nkihtaqmikon (NN), a group of members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe living on the Pleasant Point Reservation in northeastern Maine. NN was formed to protect their cultural and spiritual traditions from the harmful effects of the proposed LNG terminal on Passamaquoddy Bay. BIA's decision was also prompted by the Tribe's decision in June 2009 to terminate the lease. In its decision, BIA cited Quoddy Bay LNG's failure to respond to an earlier notice of lease violation. The company has 30 days to vacate the property or file an appeal with the BIA.
"Today's victory is on behalf of our descendants because it is what our ancestors expect from us," said Vera Francis, an organizer with NN. "To value and defend that which has sustained us - Passamaquoddy Bay - is what defines and shapes our future."
Another of NN's members, Mary Bassett, exclaimed "Split Rock rests easier today!" She stated that NN and its supporters will continue to work hard to protect Passamaquoddy Bay and that "all land, all humans, and animal life deserve a healthy environment."
Professor Teresa Clemmer, Associate Director of the Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC), said BIA's decision to cancel the lease was a testament to the perseverance of far-sighted tribal members and to the hard work of many student clinicians. On behalf of NN, ENRLC filed suit in 2005 in U.S. District Court in Bangor, Maine. "BIA's decision represents a big victory for the long-term interests of the Tribe," Clemmer said, "and is a testament to our clients' determination and willingness to hang in there for the long haul," Clemmer said.
NN has battled the proposed natural gas terminal on tribal land at Split Rock ever since the BIA's original approval in 2005. They have always maintained that the project threatens the ecological health of Passamaquoddy Bay and would destroy an area important to the Tribe's cultural, spiritual and economic lives.
In the lawsuit, NN contended that the BIA approved the lease authorizing the construction of the LNG terminal without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal environmental and historic protection laws. Since then, the ENRLC has been attempting to overcome a series of procedural arguments raised by the U.S. Department of Justice in order to reach the merits of the case.
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The ENRLC also prevailed in a companion lawsuit involving NN's Freedom of Information Act requests for records from BIA. A federal judge in Maine recently ruled that the BIA had violated FOIA by failing to promptly release the requested documents.
"The health of the Bay's unique ecosystems depends upon sound decision-making," Francis said. "Quite unlike many other cultures, ours is a history enlivened by a bay rich in marine life, tides and beauty. We are the original occupants of this land, and it is our responsibility to keep it that way. We are celebrating the defeat of Quoddy Bay LNG and the lease cancellation. Passamaquoddy Bay is an inappropriate location for a liquefied natural gas terminal."
Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, is the nation's top-ranked environmental law school and has one of the top-ranked clinical training programs in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum that emphasizes public service, a Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree for lawyers and nonlawyers, and two post-JD degrees, the Master of Laws (LLM) in Environmental Law and the LLM in American Legal Studies (for international students). The school also features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center and the South Royalton Legal Clinic. For more information, visit www.vermontlaw.edu.