Millennium Bulk Terminals charged Tuesday that the Washington Department of Ecology “invented special rules” to block the company’s plan to export coal to Asia from the Lower Columbia River.
Ecology’s hostility toward coal drove the agency’s decision to deny Millennium a permit to dredge and fill wetlands, and build two docks, the company alleged in an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
“Millennium is constitutionally guaranteed a fair process, which Ecology didn’t provide,” the company claimed.
Millennium has been trying for five years to win approval from state, federal and local government agencies to export coal from a former aluminum plant in Longview.
In a separate legal action Tuesday, the company also challenged Ecology’s disapproval in a state court and indicated it may pursue the case in federal court.
The Washington Farm Bureau has strongly backed the project for years. The organization says the new docks and related rail improvements will enhance the state’s ability to export agricultural products. It also argues that denying a project based on the commodity it would export would be a bad precedent for food producers.
Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller on Tuesday accused Ecology of politicizing the regulatory process. “Our state is about more than trendy neighborhoods and tech jobs,” he said. “Ecology is killing critical investments that benefit farmers and family-wage jobs for blue-collar workers in Washington.”
Gov. Jay Inslee has positioned himself as a leading national advocate of cutting carbon emissions, but Ecology said in a written statement Tuesday that greenhouse gases were not a factor in its decision.
Millennium did not “provide reasonable assurances” the project would meet water-quality standards, Ecology stated.
“The project would have resulted in unavoidable and adverse impacts to local air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources,” according to Ecology.
Millennium’s argues that its project is fairly typical for ports and that its approach to preventing water pollution would be the same as one Ecology approved for Trans Alta’s coal plant in Centralia. The company leases the site on Longview’s heavily industrialized waterfront from aluminum company Alcoa.
The company also argues that Ecology’s litany of alleged adverse impacts unrelated to water shouldn’t have figured in the agency denying a permit to work in the river. The company claims Ecology abused its power to evaluate for federal authorities a project’s effect on navigable waters of the United States.
“The law is clearly in our favor and presenting our case will ensure other important economic development projects will not face these same kinds of abuses in the future,” Millennium President and CEO Bill Chapman said in a written statement.
The company said it was filing suit in Cowlitz County Superior Court because the Pollution Control Hearings Board does not have jurisdiction over the company’s constitutional claims. The company’s complaint to the appeals board included claims that Ecology interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. The company, working under a deadline to appeal to the state board, said it was making the constitutional claims now so that they could be heard later in federal court.