Lighthouse Resources Inc., a company trying to build one of the country's largest coal export facilities in Longview, Washington, this week filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Jay Inslee, Department of Ecology director Maia Bellon, and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Hilary Franz.
Utah-based Lighthouse is the parent company of Millennium Bulk Terminals, which, last fall was denied a water quality permit by the Washington Department of Ecology for the coal export project. The $650 million proposal would have shipped 44 million metric tons of coal from the Columbia River to Asian markets annually, and added 16 coal trains a day through Cowlitz County.
Washington State Department of Ecology director Maia Bellon told reporters last September that there were "too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward." When the Department of Ecology denied the permit, it additionally considered the project's potential impacts in area's like air quality, vessel traffic, rail safety, noise pollution, and tribal fishing access.
The Department of Ecology Ecology's analysis pissed off the coal exporters. In the lawsuit, they claim that while the department evaluated the Millennium Bulk Terminal project using an assessment taking into account greenhouse gas emissions when the coal was burned in Asia, an environmental review for the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 container shipping expansion limited the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions to local sources.
Now, the coal exporters' lawsuit claims that Governor Inslee—as well as Bellon and Hilary Franz—violated the interstate commerce clause by seeking to block coal export projects like the one in Longview.
"It’s no secret that Washington state officials are philosophically opposed to coal,” Lighthouse CEO Everett King said in a statement. “But that does not give them legal authority to discriminate against this project and block foreign trade and interstate commerce.”
As evidence of Inslee's philosophy, the lawsuit cited numerous panel attendances by Inslee in which he expressed concern about climate change and the impacts of coal, as well as various environmental groups expressing hope that Inslee could block coal port projects. The lawsuit noted that Hilary Franz also mentioned that she opposed coal and oil exports in her campaign for Commissioner of Public Lands.
"While I can’t comment on pending litigation, I will say that the governor appreciates the work done by the state Dept. of Ecology to review and evaluate the Millennium Terminal," Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee said by e-mail.
Update: Public lands commissioner Hilary Franz called the lawsuit "baseless" and said she was confident the state would prevail.
“We are still reviewing the lawsuit, but the bases for the State’s decisions regarding this proposal were clear and lawful," Franz said in a statement. "The Department of Natural Resources evaluates all proposals to use state owned aquatic lands to ensure that they comply with all statutory and constitutional requirements."