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Lawmakers in Wyoming push for coal-export litigation role

Bill to consider suit against Washington advances

By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press
Published: January 29, 2019, 4:10pm

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday that Wyoming isn’t being more aggressive with legal action involving a disputed coal-export facility and advanced a measure to pursue their own lawsuit against the state of Washington.

The bill passed 7-2 by the House Judiciary Committee would authorize lawmakers, after the legislative session concludes in March, to consider suing Washington for denying a crucial permit for a proposed Pacific Ocean coal-shipping terminal.

Wyoming and five other states — Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah — are filing friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the developer of a proposed $680 million shipping facility at Longview. Suing Washington outright and being more directly involved as a party to the case could be more effective, said Republican Rep. Clark Stith, of Rock Springs.

“If you’re not a party to a lawsuit, you just don’t have the same standing to exert control over the litigation,” he said.

The Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana is the nation’s top coal-producing region.

Officials in both states hope that more exports could offset declining domestic demand. They view the permit’s denial as a political move that violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce.

Six other states — California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Oregon — have filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.

Wyoming’s new Republican governor, Mark Gordon, has said challenging Washington over coal exports will be a priority for his administration but has not yet said what exactly he intends to do about the litigation filed in 2018 by the coal terminal’s developer, Salt Lake City-based Lighthouse Resources.

The bill could pressure Gordon to take stronger action, Stith said.