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Federal judge deals another blow to Washington dock that would handle Montana coal

TACOMA, Wash.- A federal judge in Washington state dealt another blow Tuesday to a proposed Columbia River coal terminal that would ship Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia.

In a 19-page decision, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan affirmed that Washington state regulators didn’t break federal law in denying a water-quality permit to the owners of Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, Wash.

The ruling was the lastest of several legal setbacks for Millennium, which is seeking to build the nation’s largest coal dock and ship 44 million tons of coal to Asia. The company has deals with Cloud Peak Energy and Crow tribe to ship coal through the port, if it’s ever built.

Millennium owner Lighthouse Resources and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which would ship coal to the port from Powder River Basin mines, had sued Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state agencies, arguing they were interfering with federal interstate commerce laws.

Bryan, however, rejected this argument and tossed out their claims. Environmentalists said the ruling narrows the company’s options to build the terminal, which was first proposed in its current form in 2012.

“At every turn, Millennium faces dead ends for its unpopular coal project,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition. “The coal company has racked up multiple denials from state and local agencies, and a committee of local residents recently concluded that the coal terminal should not be built based on its harmful health impacts alone. Now its hope of overturning states’ rights in order to build the project is narrowing. It’s time for Millennium to see the writing on the wall and end its coal terminal scheme.”

MTN News has reached out to a Millennium representative for comment.

Washington state had originally rejected the water-quality permit in the spring of 2017, stating the company had failed to generate an adequate environmental review.

In August, U.S. senators from coal states, including Republican Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and John Barrasso of Wyoming, introduced a bill that would limit review of water-quality impacts for projects by amending the Clean Water Act.

Their goal was to speed up permitting for the Millennium project, but it’s unclear whether the bill could help in the wake of the judge’s ruling.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said he was disappointed in the decision.

“The millennium bulk terminal will help create hundreds of jobs and help get clean Montana coal to our allies in Asia,” Daines said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It’s disappointing to see another decision blocking this important project. I will continue to fight to make sure this project is completed.”

Erik Olson

Erik Olson

Erik Olson is a digital content producer at KTVQ.
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