Court ruling upholds state’s right to protect public lands

August 20, 2019 (Tacoma, WA) – Today the Washington Court of Appeals handed the proposed Millennium coal export terminal another defeat, further decreasing the chances for the large coal export terminal. The Court ruled that the Washington Department of Natural Resources validly denied Millennium an aquatic lands sub-lease due to its financial shakiness, lack of experience, and prior deceptions. The Court stressed that DNR acts for the public benefit when managing state-owned lands, including when making leasing decisions.

“DNR manages state lands for the benefit of the public, not for the benefit of hedge fund investors gambling on coal exports,” said Marisa Ordonia, an Earthjustice attorney representing conservation groups intervenors.  “The Court of Appeals confirmed that DNR was appropriately cautious about exposing Washington to a damaging and risky coal export terminal, particularly given Millennium’s deception early in the state permitting process.” As the Court noted, when first seeking permits for its project, “Millennium intentionally concealed the extent of its plans for the coal export facility in order to avoid full environmental review.”

“Today’s decision upholds the critical role that our laws play in protecting our community’s health and safety,” said Rebecca Ponzio of the Washington Environmental Council and on behalf of the Power Past Coal coalition. “Thousands of people across our region have stood up for years to say coal has no place in our future. Together, we are celebrating the outcome of this court decision.” 

“The people of the Pacific Northwest strongly opposed dirty coal,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “And we won. DNR decision will prevent the shipment of climate-wrecking coal around the world. Washington is charting a new course for clean water and clean energy. I hope Millennium gets the message.” 

“Washington state has a right to protect communities’ clean air, clean water and public health. This ruling reflects the importance of allowing state agencies to do their job in protecting Washington families,” said Cesia Kearns, Sierra Club.

If built, Millennium would be the largest coal export facility in North America, sending up to 44 million metric tons of Powder River and Uinta Basin coal per year to Asian markets that are quickly turning away from coal-fired power. Up to sixteen trains a day traveling between the Powder River Basin and Longview would have served the terminal, impacting public safety response times in rail communities across the Pacific Northwest and contributing to higher rates of cancer in low-income communities, including Longview’s Highlands neighborhood.

In addition to the DNR lease at issue today, DNR denied a construction permit for Millennium in 2017.  The project proponent must receive all permits to move forward, including the four permit denials that are being challenged by Millennium. Today’s decision to uphold DNR’s denial affirms, again, that this project is not moving forward. Also in 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology denied a key water quality permit. Necessary shoreline development permits were denied in November 2017 by the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner, who cited multiple unavoidable impacts to public health, safety and tribal fishing resources that cannot be mitigated.

Unavoidable, significant, adverse impacts that can’t be reasonably mitigated and were identified in state and local permit denials include: increased cancer rates, increased noise and traffic, delayed emergency response times, disproportionate impacts to minority and low income communities, increased risk to local and statewide rail capacity, increased risk of train accidents, increased risk to tribal fishing rights, increased risk of significant vessel incidents (fires, explosions, collisions, etc.), and increased climate pollution.

Columbia Riverkeeper, Washington Environmental Council, and Sierra Club intervened in the lawsuit to stand with DNR, represented by attorneys Marisa Ordonia, Kristen Boyles, and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice.

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Resources: The Court’s full decision can be found HERE.

Media Contacts:
– Earthjustice Marisa Ordonia 206-343-7340, x1021
– Power Past Coal Coalition & Washington Environmental Council Rebecca Ponzio 206-240-0483
– Columbia Riverkeeper Brett VandenHeuvel 503-348-2436