By Tim Pearce
May 10, 2018 - Six states joined a lawsuit against Washington Wednesday for denying key permits to a proposed coal export terminal, claiming the act violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Millennium Bulk Terminals proposed building the largest coal export terminal in the United States in Cowlitz County, Washington, but state regulators killed the project. The company sued the state January 3 and has been joined by various groups and government entities — most recently the states of Wyoming, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah — according to court filings.
State Regulators blocked the proposal on broad environmental grounds, assessing nine categories of pollution: air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources, and tribal resources. Also included in the environmental impact study was the effect of burning 44 million tons of coal annually — or the amount estimated to be shipped through the terminal.
“We feel that the state has grossly exaggerated the [environmental] impacts” of the terminal, Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber told The Daily News Foundation after the county joined in the lawsuit April 9.
Washington violated the commerce clause of the Constitution, the states that joined the lawsuit argue. The clause gives Congress authority “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes,” implying individual states are barred from interfering in interstate commerce.
Most of the coal the terminal would have handled would have originated from mines in Montana and Wyoming.
“The Defendants are trying to force on other states their policy preferences regarding the use of coal as a source of fuel, and thus, they are impeding the free flow of commerce. Today, it is coal; tomorrow, it could be natural gas or non-organic produce,” the states’ joint amicus brief said. “The interests of the interior states in developing foreign trade are not subject to the barriers erected by the policy whims of states that control access to international markets through their ports.”
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