The state of Wyoming is considering suing Washington state over coal.
In yet another plot twist in the protracted Millennium Bulk Terminals saga, a bill introduced Friday by Wyoming state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, would create a $250,000 “coal terminal litigation account.”
Under the legislation, the fund could be used to hire a private law firm to sue Washington over the denial of permits needed for the construction of Millennium’s $680 million proposed coal dock in Longview.
Millennium’s parent company, Lighthouse Resources, Inc., is already suing Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration in U.S. District Court over the state’s denial of a key water quality permit and aquatic lands sublease.
Lighthouse owns vast coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, and coal production has been a cornerstone of that state’s economy since the 1970s.
In addition to Inslee, the complaint names state Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz as co-defendants.
Similar to language in the federal lawsuit, Wyoming’s HB 0123 accuses Washington of unconstitutionally interfering with interstate and global commerce.
According to the bill, the litigation fund is necessary to prevent “further harm of serious magnitude” to Wyoming’s economic interests. The fund could be expanded as needed for associated litigation expenses.
Wyoming is also currently facing an $850 million budget shortfall.
As written, the bill language appears to knock Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael for “continued absence of action.” Michael has so far declined to pursue legal action against Washington state.
The bill’s chances of passage are unclear, although it does have four co-sponsors. Republicans control a supermajority in Wyoming’s bicameral legislature with 51 of 60 seats in the House and 26 of 30 seats in the Senate. If the bill is passed and signed into law by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, the fund would become effective July 1, 2018.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Gray declined a phone interview and did not respond to emailed questions by press time. Michael, the state’s attorney general, was unavailable for comment Friday.
A representative with the Washington-based Power Past Coal coalition said Wyoming shouldn’t use taxpayer funds to fight a losing battle.
“Washington state residents were clear: They don’t want to live with the public health and environmental impacts that come with being home to the largest coal export facility in North America,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, co-director of the coalition and a senior organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper. “Wyoming legislators shouldn’t waste their taxpayers’ money trying to overturn another state’s laws at a time when Asia and the rest of the world is turning away from coal and towards cheaper, cleaner energy sources.”
In addition to targeting state regulators, the bill could theoretically place Cowlitz County in its legal crosshairs.
The new legislation would authorize Wyoming to seek damages or declaratory relief against any party responsible for “the unconstitutional denial” of the requisite permits for the construction of coal export terminals in the state.
Millennium was dealt a major blow by the county’s own shoreline hearings examiner, who denied the company a pair of key shoreline permits in November.
In his decision, Hearings Examiner Mark Scheibmeir said there were several unresolved issues that prevent Millennium from meeting requirements under state shoreline laws.
Scheibmeir said the company could not show that it could adequately compensate for 10 significant adverse impacts: vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources, tribal resources and greenhouse gas emissions.
As a lead on the environmental impact statement, Cowlitz County is appealing Scheibmeir’s decision to the state shorelines hearings board, arguing that he acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner and outside of his authority.
In its federal complaint, Lighthouse 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.