Groups want in on case of Washington state coal terminal

BNSF Railway and five environmental groups are seeking to intervene on opposing sides of a lawsuit brought against Washington state by developers of a blocked export terminal that would send U.S. coal to Asian markets.

Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, which operates coal mines in Montana and Wyoming, sued Washington state officials in federal court in Tacoma in November. The lawsuit alleges state officials violated federal laws in denying permits for its $680 million Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview project.

The terminal aimed to move up to 44 million tons of coal by train through a terminal in Longview, Washington, for export to Asia. Environmentalists and Indian tribes have opposed the plans because of concerns about global warming, coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the river.

Last fall the Washington Department of Ecology denied the project a key water-quality permit. And a local hearing examiner also has denied the project two shoreline permits.

On Tuesday, the Washington Environmental Council, Columbia Riverkeeper and other groups that actively opposed the terminal filed a motion seeking to intervene on behalf of the state in the case.

The groups say the range and extent of harmful impacts from the single project is staggering and they have a deep interest in what happens in the case.

In a separate filing Tuesday, BNSF Railway asked a federal judge to let it intervene as a plaintiff. It said in a statement Wednesday that state officials violated federal law by denying permits based on so-called rail impacts.

BNSF said state officials also interfered with BNSF's ability to engage in foreign commerce by moving coal to Millennium for shipment to Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries.

Millennium, a subsidiary of Lighthouse, has filed several lawsuits against the state. A state judge ruled in favor of Millennium in October, saying the state acted arbitrarily when it blocked a sublease sought for the project.

In a court filing last week, lawyers for the state have asked the federal judge to dismiss many of the claims and abstain on others.

"The present suit rests on the false narrative that state decision-makers are motivated by animus against coal rather than a desire to protect state residents from the harmful environmental and public health impacts of the proposal," state lawyers wrote.

A hearing is set for March 16.

An environmental review found that the terminal would increase cancer risks for some residents, make rail accidents more likely and add millions of metric tons of climate-changing greenhouse gas globally every year.