Four Republican U.S. senators have sponsored a bill intended to speed up the permitting process for the Millennium Bulk Terminal by narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act.
The proposed legislation comes after Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber in March asked representatives from Wyoming and Montana to encourage their states’ attorneys general to sue Washington on the grounds that it is interfering with foreign and interstate commerce by throttling the planned Longview coal terminal.
Senator Steve Daines of Montana said last week that the bill would ensure that the Clean Water Act (CWA) is not used as a “weapon” to prevent his state from exporting coal to the Asia Pacific Region. Montana coal would pass through the Millennium terminal on its way to Asia’s market, he said.
Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and James Inhofe (R-OK) also sponsored the July 31 bill.
“The state of Washington has hijacked this authority and blocked Wyoming coal from being exported overseas,” Barrasso said. “This kind of obstruction is about politics, not water quality. This legislation returns the process to what it was originally designed for — protecting America’s water.”
Millennium’s proposal to build a $680 million coal export facility at the old Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum smelter in West Longview has been in a permitting battle for six years and is currently tied up in state and federal legal challenges.
Millennium parent company Lighthouse Resources, Inc. filed a suit against Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration accusing state regulators of violating the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by blocking the transport of coal from the company’s mines in the Powder River Basin.
The Office of Gov. Inslee Friday said the proposed legislation "wrongly undermines states’ authority to regulate water quality within our boundaries."
The Governor's Office added that it agrees with a statement from the Western Governors Association which said that "curtailing or reducing state authority or the vital role of states in maintaining water quality within their boundaries would inflict serious harm to the division of state and federal authorities established under the Constitution and recognized by Congress in the CWA."
The bill amending the Clean Water Act would require states to have clear water quality certification requirements and consider only on-site discharges when evaluating water quality. States would also have to inform applicants within 90 days whether they have all the materials and make final decisions in writing, according to Sen. Daines’ office.
Everett King, CEO of Lighthouse Resources, said the proposed legislation would also clarify what non-coal activities could occur at the port.
“When a project meets all water quality standards, the project’s water quality certification should be awarded,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this was not the case with our coal export project in Washington state. This legislation ensures that Clean Water Act decisions remain about water quality and are not used for an improper purpose.”