Attorney General Becerra Supports State of Washington’s Right to Deny Pollution-Causing Coal Export Project

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a multistate coalition, filed an amicus brief in Lighthouse v. Inslee in support of the state of Washington’s environmental review and subsequent denial of a coal company’s application for permits to construct the Millennium Bulk Terminal Project based on its significant negative environmental impacts. If approved, the Terminal would be the largest coal export terminal in North America. Washington properly denied the permits based on the facility’s anticipated significant environmental impacts. The two primary companies that would profit from the Terminal project – Lighthouse Resources, a Utah-based coal supply chain conglomerate, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) — challenged the state’s permit denial.  The companies’ appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals attempts to overturn a district court determination that Washington’s decision to protect its residents and environment from these harmful impacts does not interfere with national rail transportation and is not preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA). The state coalition supports Washington’s efforts to protect its environment and the public health and safety of its residents. It urges the court to uphold the district court ruling.
“The Constitution vests in the states the power to provide for the general welfare of their residents,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Projects which harm the health and environment crucial to the welfare of the public are therefore subject to the states’ authority. The federal district court properly found that Washington state’s actions did not clash with any federal authority.”
As the district court determined, Washington’s environmental review of the Terminal, including review of its rail-related impacts, does not constitute an impermissible interference with national rail transportation preempted by ICCTA. The Terminal would be operated by Lighthouse, a coal company, not a railroad, and it is not subject to preemption under ICCTA. Therefore, federal law does not prohibit Washington from exercising its discretionary land use authority to analyze the full scope of the Terminal’s environmental impacts. Moreover, in conducting such analysis, ICCTA does not preempt Washington from considering indirect rail-related impacts attributable to the Terminal.

Joining Attorney General Becerra in filing the brief are the attorneys general of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

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