Supreme Court Will Not Hear Wyoming Coal Port Lawsuit Against Washington

Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon said the Supreme Court's decision allows one state to block another state from selling goods.

Jim Angell

June 28, 20213 min read

Gordon sit down

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an attempt by Wyoming and Montana to sue Washington over its refusal to license a proposed coal export terminal.

The court, without comment, denied a request to hear the complaint that alleged Washington officials looked beyond the environmental impacts of the port on Washington when deciding whether to license the Millenium Coal Export Terminal and made their decisions based on the impact of using coal for fuel in other countries.

A note on the Supreme Court’s website said Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. supported hearing the case, but the other seven justices ruled to deny the request.

Gov. Mark Gordon called the court’s decision “frustrating” because It leaves open the question of whether one state can block another from selling its goods.

“This case was never about a single permit or product,” he said. “It was about the ability of one state to engage in lawful interstate commerce without the interference of another state. Today it is coal, tomorrow it could be agricultural products or any of our state’s abundant natural resources. At some point the Supreme Court is going to need to take on this matter.”

The Wyoming Mining Association, which represents the state’s coal mining companies, had backed the state’s legal action.

“We’re very disappointed,” said WMA Executive Director Travis Deti. “I really don’t have much more to add on this one.”

The case stems from a decision by Washington officials to block development of the coal export terminal, which would have provided a place to load coal for shipment to overseas markets. Washington officials blocked the project’s construction on the grounds it would violate the Clean Water Act.

However, Wyoming and Montana officials, in a lawsuit filed in January, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the actions of Washington officials, alleging the denial violated the Interstate Commerce Clause, which gives only the federal government the authority to regulate the flow of goods between states.

The two states also alleged that Washington officials looked beyond the local impacts of the port and instead based their decision on the state’s political opposition to the use of coal as a fuel.

The company proposing the coal terminal went bankrupt earlier this year, prompting the U.S. Solicitor General to ask that the Supreme Court not take up the case because it was moot.

Wyoming and Montana officials countered that justices needed to address the question of whether Washington could interfere with the sale of Powder River Basin coal to overseas clients.

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Jim Angell