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Gordon vetoes call for state to sue over coal terminal

in Energy/News
shipping containers at export facility
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have allowed the Legislature to sue the state of Washington over the denial of permits for a coal export terminal has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Friday vetoed HB 251, saying if legal action was taken by the Legislature, it could interfere with court filings already submitted by the executive branch.

“Giving courts the impression that two branches of Wyoming’s government might be second-guessing one another — in fact potentially litigating over the top of one another — would be counterproductive to our best efforts to protect Wyoming’s interests,” he said in his veto message to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan. “Furthermore, dividing the limited resources of Wyoming’s Attorney General between two potentially contemporaneous cases would do a disservice to both at the expense of Wyoming.”

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the measure would have set up a cooperative effort between the legislative and executive branches.

“It’s going to take a team effort between the executive branches for there to be success on this issue,” he said in a prepared statement. “This bill created a framework for this team effort to occur, so that we have the best chance for success on this issue. The veto is detrimental to that effort.”

Washington officials have denied necessary permits to build a coal export terminal to export coal from Wyoming and other states to foreign markets. Lighthouse Resources, the company proposing the export terminal, is suing Washington over the denial, alleging the state is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Wyoming and several other coal-producing states have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of Lighthouse’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Gordon wrote that while he supports the Legislature’s desire to protect the state’s economic interests, legal action taken by lawmakers independent of the executive branch could cause confusion.

“This bill … carves an unprecedented path — absent compelling reason — encouraging the Legislature to take a potentially different course from that that the state is already pursuing,” he wrote. “The obvious confusion this could engender is at best problematic and at worst fatal.”

Responsibility for such legal action rests with the executive branch, not the Legislature, Gordon wrote.

However, Gray said by taking up the issue, the Legislature would have sent a message to Washington officials.

“This bill shows the state of Washington that we are serious about this issue,” he said. “Also, the Legislature looking into this issue creates the environment where there is the best opportunity for success.”

Authorization to sue Washington clears Senate

in Energy/News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature could launch legal action against the state of Washington over its refusal to allow the construction of coal export terminals under legislation approved by the Senate on Monday.

HB 251 was approved in its third reading on a vote of 22-7.

The measure gives the Legislature’s Management Council — lawmakers in leadership positions — the authority to file a lawsuit with or without the governor’s authorization and sets aside $250,000 for legal service.

The dispute stems over Washington’s denial of permits for Lighthouse Resources to build coal export terminals to ship American coal to Asian markets, which the bill maintains is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Wyoming in May joined five other coal-producing states in filing “friend of the court” briefs in support of a lawsuit against Washington filed by Lighthouse.

The bill calls for the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee to study the feasibility of suing Washington for damages and then make a recommendation to the Legislature by Dec. 1. The money set aside to hire legal services could not be used until the Legislature approves the expense.At least one senator said she did not understand why the state needs to hire outside lawyers.

“My preference would be to use the talented lawyers we have working in the Wyoming attorney general’s (office) to do the bulk of that work rather than providing those dollars to outside attorneys,” said Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne.

Ellis said she would also rather see the state team up with coal companies already suing Washington than start separate litigation.

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