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U.S. Supreme Court chooses not to hear Millennium Bulk Terminals case

Millennium Bulk Terminals

The site of the Millennium Bulk Terminals proposed coal export facility.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday not to hear the final lawsuit over the Millennium Bulk Terminals, “signaling the official end of the project,” according to environmental activism groups and dismissing the plaintiff’s arguments that the case is broader than the one terminal.

About a year ago, the states of Wyoming and Montana filed a motion for leave to file a bill of complaint against Washington in the U.S. Supreme Court alleging the denial of Millennium’s application for Section 401 Clean Water Act certification discriminated against the states and unduly burdened their foreign and interstate commerce in violation of the Foreign and Interstate Commerce Clauses.

The federal government argued in a May filing that because the parent company of the Millennium Bulk Terminals project, Lighthouse Resources, filed for bankruptcy, the project is dead and there is no legal controversy for the nation’s highest court to consider. Even if it were not dead, federal lawyers argued the case does not meet the legal threshold under Article III of the Constitution, which limits the federal judicial power.

In a June 7 supplemental brief, Montana and Wyoming argued the case is not moot just because the parent company of Millennium Bulk Terminal filed for bankruptcy.

“Washington successfully bankrupted one terminal developer. But Washington has not changed its behavior, and the plaintiff States are still injured by it,” the brief said. “The States’ interests are broader than the fate of one developer.”

Despite Montana and Wyoming’s arguments that the case would examine “Washington’s longstanding discrimination against two landlocked states’ sovereign interests in getting one of their most important commodities to market,” seven judges moved to deny the case Monday, with Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito preferring to see the case move forward.

“Without relief from this court — the only forum with the power to grant it — Wyoming and Montana likely will never see their abundant coal reserves to foreign markets,” the plaintiffs wrote in their brief.

Local environmental groups, which had opposed the terminal, celebrated the court’s decision, according to a Monday press release from Power Past Coal, a coalition against coal expansion.

“When we fight for what we love, we win,” said Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director with Columbia Riverkeeper in a press release. “Big Coal’s shortsighted, climate-wrecking dreams for the Columbia ignited a powerful movement to stop dirty fossil fuel infrastructure — from coal to oil to fracked gas. People’s passion for clean water and our climate is unstoppable.”

Millennium Bulk and Lighthouse first pitched the bulk terminal project in 2012 to bring coal from Wyoming and Montana mines to the coast for export. It has been wrapped up in the permitting process and litigation ever since, and the company has been largely on the losing side.

The state denied two shorelines permits and one water quality permit for the project. Without those permits, Millennium could not build its coal terminal. The company filed several lawsuits appealing the denials, but every legal body that has made a final decision on permit denials in these cases has upheld the denials, according to Ecology.

Montana and Wyoming had filed the motion for a bill of complaint alleging that Washington treated the proposed terminal “very differently” from other projects due to “political opposition” to coal and a desire to protect Washington’s own economic interests.


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