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American Farm Bureau takes on Washington over coal port

The national organization warns that blocking coals exports sets bad precedent for U.S. farmers
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on May 8, 2018 9:46AM

Last changed on May 8, 2018 11:21AM

Coal opponents protest outside the Millennium Bulk Terminals Oct. 19, 2015, in Longview, Wash. The American Farm Bureau Federation claims Washington’s refusal to let coal be exported from the site sets a bad precedent for trade-dependent agriculture.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press File

Coal opponents protest outside the Millennium Bulk Terminals Oct. 19, 2015, in Longview, Wash. The American Farm Bureau Federation claims Washington’s refusal to let coal be exported from the site sets a bad precedent for trade-dependent agriculture.

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Anti-coal activists demonstrate Oct. 19 in Longview, Wash., against a proposal to export coal from a former aluminum plant along the Lower Columbia River. The American Farm Bureau Federation is seeking to join a lawsuit against the state, arguing that officials are trying to control federal trade policy.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press File

Anti-coal activists demonstrate Oct. 19 in Longview, Wash., against a proposal to export coal from a former aluminum plant along the Lower Columbia River. The American Farm Bureau Federation is seeking to join a lawsuit against the state, arguing that officials are trying to control federal trade policy.

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The American Farm Bureau Federation has accused Washington of hijacking national trade and foreign policies by refusing to let Powder River Basin coal pass through the state on its way to Asia.

The Farm Bureau, joined by other industry organizations, made the claim in a brief filed May 3 in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington. The groups — representing miners, manufacturers and petrochemical companies, as well as farmers — are supporting Millennium Bulk Terminals in its lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.

The groups argue that if unchecked, Washington will have set a precedent for the other two liberal-leaning West Coast states to pursue policies harmful to export-dependent farmers and product makers.

“The implication of (Washington’s) conduct reaches far beyond the energy industry,” the brief states. “In this case, it is coal; in the next case, it could be agriculture or manufactured goods.”

The Washington Farm Bureau has long supported Millennium, a proposal by Utah-based Lighthouse Resources to export coal from Longview along the Columbia River. The state Department of Ecology and Department of Natural Resources have denied permits that Millennium needs. The coal company has responded with several court actions.

State officials say the project would do too much environmental damage. Inslee has made climate change his signature issue on national and international stages. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has joined a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from resuming new coal leases on federal lands.

Nevertheless, in court filings, the state calls the assertion that it rejected Millennium based on hostility to coal a “false narrative.”

According to the filings, the state’s opposition stemmed from matters such as noise, traffic congestion, the demolition of historic industrial buildings and projected increases in train accidents and cancer from diesel locomotive emissions. Several environmental groups have intervened in the federal lawsuit on the state’s side.

The Farm Bureau, National Mining Association, National Association of Manufacturers and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers have moved to join the lawsuit on Millennium’s side.

Their brief to District Judge Robert Bryan warns against letting the political leanings of individual states overrule national economic and diplomatic interests.

For example, the groups argue, California could ban exporting farm products if it dislikes how livestock are raised. The groups cite a lawsuit filed by 13 states against California’s ban on eggs laid by caged hens to support their claim that disputes will arise if states are allowed to politicize interstate commerce.

The brief claims that Ecology’s reasons for denying a permit required under the Clean Water Act could stop any work in streams, wetlands and floodplains, “which describes the majority of agricultural projects.”

Ecology says it denied the permit because Millennium couldn’t provide “reasonable assurances” that the project would not violate water quality standards.



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