Coal states ask Supreme Court to overturn Washington coal terminal ban

FILE PHOTO: Dump trucks haul coal and sediment at the Black Butte coal mine outside Rock Springs, Wyoming, U.S. April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wyoming and Montana, two coal-producing western states, on Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Washington state’s decision to block on environmental grounds a coal export terminal intended as an outlet to Asian markets.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, a Republican, announced the challenge under the court’s rarely used “original jurisdiction” provision that enables the justices to hear certain disputes between states before a review by lower courts.

Wyoming and Montana contend that Washington state’s denial of a key water permit needed to allow construction of the coal export terminal has interfered with their trade with Asia. Washington has said it has the right to protect its waterways from potential pollution. The proposed terminal would be located in Longview, Washington, at the mouth of the Columbia River, where it would ship coal transported by rail from Wyoming and Montana.

The Supreme Court rarely - but occasionally - hears “original jurisdiction” cases, typically about state disputes over water rights. The court in 2016 rejected a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado objecting to a state ballot initiative that legalized marijuana.

Gordon and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, said Washington’s permit denial violates two provisions of the U.S. Constitution intended to protect trade: the so-called Dormant Commerce Clause and Foreign Commerce Clause.

“Wyoming’s ability to export one of our greatest natural resources is being blocked unlawfully,” Gordon said.

The challenge is the latest legal move in a years-long battle between coastal states and coal-producing states over the construction of proposed terminals that would enable U.S. coal to reach markets in Asia, a source of demand for coal as American utilities burn less and less of it. (Read story here)

The coal industry has looked at the West Coast as a gateway to the global market, with plans for as many as seven terminals on the books a decade ago. But five of those projects were canceled amid volatile Asian demand and environmental opposition. The remaining two have been challenged in courts in California and Washington.

Lighthouse Resources, the developer of the proposed Millennium coal export terminal in Washington state, filed its own lawsuit in federal court against Washington’s governor in 2018 but Wyoming and Montana decided to go straight to the top U.S. court with their constitutional challenge.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham