Could environmental groups case stop Shell from parking its Arctic drilling fleet in Seattle? It looks more possible now.
Your elected Port of Seattle commissioners. They allowed a lease deal with Shell to proceed with little public notice or comment. But could a legal effort led by environmental groups undo the deal and stop Shell from parking its Arctic drilling fleet in Seattle? It looks more possible now. Don Wilson/Port of Seattle

Holy moly. Big news: Judge Mariane Spearman of the King County Superior Court has ruled that environmental groups' case against the Port of Seattle over the port's decision to host Shell's Arctic drilling fleet can proceed.

Well, the most important part of the case can proceed, anyway. Spearman ruled that one of the environmental groups' arguments—about the Shoreline Management Act—won't move forward against the port. Still, the environmental groups' argument that the port acted "arbitrarily, capriciously or illegally when it entered into the lease with Foss Maritime" can be heard.

Enviros say that the port did wrong when it exempted itself from a full environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (or SEPA) when allowing the lease. (This is the very issue that 14-year-old Aji Piper was asking port commissioner Courtney Gregoire about last weekend.) Now the court will hear what the port knew, and when. Hopefully a lot of the stuff that's previously been kept secret about the factors that went into its decision-making process will now tumble out in court.

Meanwhile, outside the court process a new public records disclosure shows that port commissioners were being lobbied by industry and labor groups about a lease for Shell's Arctic drilling fleet nearly a month before the public ever knew about such a thing. We reported on this last month, but this is the first time we can see one commissioner's entire log of e-mails related to this issue.

Here's a choice one from port commissioner John Creighton, dated December 12, in response to the flood of personal confrontations and e-mails he'd received while he thought he was still subject to a nondisclosure agreement. It's still unclear which proposal the commission had already given a "green light" to—in secret, of course—but it could very well have been the one for Shell.

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And here's the response he got from Larry Ehl, Port of Seattle commission chief of staff:

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We've asked for a comment from the port and Foss Maritime and will update when we hear back.

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UPDATE: The port says this is only a "preliminary step in this matter." Here's the rest from port spokesperson Peter McGraw:

The judge’s ruling does not prevent Foss Maritime from continuing to use the terminal as described in the lease. Nor does it conclude that the port or Foss have failed to comply with any law. It does direct the parties to prepare a record so that the court can review the port’s compliance with SEPA. We look forward to providing this information to the court. The port continues to be committed to fully comply with any and all requirements and regulations.