Millennium Bulk Terminals’ parent company, Lighthouse Resources, Inc., filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday, claiming the governor’s administration is impeding interstate and foreign commerce by blocking the construction of a $680 million coal dock on the Columbia River.
In addition to Inslee, the complaint — filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma — names state Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz as defendants.
Lighthouse is claiming that the denial of two crucial permits for the coal export project represents a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In the complaint, Lighthouse alleges that the defendants violated the Constitution’s “dormant” foreign commerce clause by essentially imposing an embargo on new exports of coal to Asia from the company’s mines in Montana and Wyoming.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that that the commerce clause implicitly prohibits states from discriminating against or unreasonably burdening the free flow of goods and services.
The complaint also accuses Inslee’s administration of coordinating with officials in Oregon and California in a “subnational” effort to prevent any new coal exports from the West Coast to Asian markets.
And the complaint alleges that state agencies’ actions are preempted by the ICC Termination Act, which allows the federal government to regulate railroads, and the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, which applies to most ports in the United States.
“It’s no secret that Washington state officials are philosophically opposed to coal,” Everett King, president and CEO of Lighthouse, said Wednesday in a press release. “But that does not give them legal authority to discriminate against this project and block foreign trade and interstate commerce.”
Lighthouse is seeking a declaration by the court that the recent denial of permits is unlawful; the company also is asking a judge to issue an order directing state agencies to continue processing current and future permit applications.
The state Department of Ecology dealt a potentially fatal blow to the project in September when it denied Millennium a key water quality permit.
In its denial, Bellon called the project “unprecedented” in scope, noting that the terminal would move 44 million metric tons of coal annually — making it one of the largest coal terminals in North America. Coal would be piled eight stories high and 50 football fields wide, according to Ecology. The project alone would boost U.S. coal exports by 40 percent.
Meanwhile, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning last week gave the state Department of Natural Resources a deadline to act on an aquatic lands sublease that Millennium Bulk Terminals needs to move forward.
In October, Warning ruled that DNR unfairly denied Millennium’s request for a sublease to build its terminal on state-owned aquatic lands.
Wednesday’s legal complaint represents the company’s sixth pending litigation battle.
David Bennett, an Ecology spokesman, said Wednesday that the agency stands by its decision.
“We received a copy of the lawsuit and will review it. We remain confident in our denial of the (water quality) permit,” he said in a statement to The Daily News.
Tara Lee, an Inslee spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday that her office was unable to comment on pending litigation.
But she said that “the governor appreciates the work done by the Department of Ecology to review and evaluate the Millennium terminal.”