Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
breaking top story

Trump administration failed to file opinion on Wyoming coal export lawsuit

  • Updated
  • 0
Coal port

The port of Longview on the Columbia River at Longview, Washington, is pictured on May 12, 2005. The Trump administration left office without filing an opinion on Wyoming and Montana's lawsuit over the terminal.

The Trump administration left office before weighing in on a lawsuit filed by Wyoming and Montana over a blocked coal export terminal, further dimming the states’ hope to ship coal from the West Coast.

Wyoming’s attorney general filed the original action in the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2020. The lawsuit alleged the state of Washington unconstitutionally stopped the development of a proposed coal export terminal, thereby inhibiting the landlocked states from shipping their coal to global markets.

Back in October, Wyoming’s governor announced the Supreme Court had asked the Trump administration’s Department of Justice to file an opinion on the case, a sign some justices may be interested in considering it.

But the acting solicitor general left before following through. According to the U.S. Supreme Court docket, no opinion has been filed. S&P Global Market Intelligence first reported on the absence of an opinion.

The lack of comment from the Trump administration caught Wyoming political leaders off guard, with many considering it a setback for the state’s fight to export coal.

“We were disappointed that the solicitor general didn’t finish or do his report before he left office,” said Randall Luthi, Gov. Mark Gordon’s chief energy adviser. “But our position is unchanged.”

“If it was a violation of the Commerce Clause on Jan. 19, it’s still a violation of the Commerce Clause on Jan. 21,” Luthi noted, referencing the days before and after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

In the lawsuit, Wyoming and Montana argued the state of Washington violated the commerce clause and foreign commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by inhibiting the export of a commodity.

Earth’s ice is melting faster today than in the mid-1990s, new research suggests, as climate change nudges global temperatures ever higher.

Comments from the Office of the Solicitor General in the Department of Justice often carry significant weight in a case before the country’s highest court, according to Joshua Macey, a University of Chicago law professor. The Biden administration could still write a brief, but it may not be in Wyoming’s favor.

“What this means is that probably the most influential litigator in the country, from the Supreme Court’s perspective, is now going to come out on the other side of this issue,” Macey said of the solicitor general’s opinion under Biden.

Still, Wyoming’s lawsuit over the blocked coal export terminal could have a chance in court.

“The fact that the solicitor general did not weigh in is not helpful to the Wyoming and Montana side on this,” explained Alexandra Klass, a professor specializing in energy, environment and natural resources law at the University of Minnesota. “But that does not necessarily mean that the court won’t take the case.”

“Certainly, the fact that they asked for input (from the solicitor general) means that at least certain justices on the court had interest in the case,” Klass added.

One question facing the Supreme Court includes whether it is the appropriate venue to consider the original action filed by Wyoming and Montana, Klass noted.

A similar case between the project’s parent company, Lighthouse Resources Inc., and the state of Washington over the coal export terminal is still ongoing. The court will need to consider if the issues brought forward by Wyoming could be appropriately raised in that case instead, Klass said.

Last week’s news followed a string of setbacks for Wyoming’s dream coal port, known as the Millennium Bulk Terminals. In December, Lighthouse Resources, filed for bankruptcy. It has yet to find a buyer willing to take on the terminal.

The coal port would have given Montana and Wyoming the ability to export massive amounts of Powder River Basin coal to other countries during a time when domestic demand for the commodity is falling. The Powder River Basin, a region of intensive coal mining stretching from Wyoming into Montana, produces about 40% of the country’s coal.

But Washington state public officials have said building an export terminal on the coast would come with steep environmental costs to surrounding communities’ air, water and land.

In 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology declined to extend a necessary water certification under the Clean Water Act due to what it identified as “unavoidable and significant adverse environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the proposed terminal,” according to court documents. After the company appealed, Washington’s Pollution Control Hearings Board upheld the department’s decision.

To Wyoming and Montana, this specific water quality certification was denied “with prejudice,” on political grounds instead of environmental grounds, according to court documents.

In addition, the Washington Department of Natural Resources denied the company the ability to sublease state-owned aquatic land where part of the proposed facility would be built. What’s more, the county also voted not to grant conditional use and development permits to the company. A hearings board and Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the county’s decision. The list of regulatory roadblocks and litigation over the terminal goes on.

If the project had been completed, it would have become the largest coal export terminal in North America.



Photos: A look back at Blackjewel’s bankruptcy and mine closures in the Powder River Basin

A look at Blackjewel's bankruptcy and mine closures in Wyoming's Powder River Basin

The company filed for bankruptcy on July 1 and abruptly shuttered its two Campbell County mines. Those mines remain closed more than a month later.

  • Updated
  • 0

Despite repeated promises made during bankruptcy proceedings last week, the sale of two Wyoming coal mines has yet to be finalized and hundred…

  • Updated
  • 0

In what has become almost customary in coal company bankruptcies, Cloud Peak Energy filed a request to delay its auction of Powder River Basin…

  • Updated
  • 0

Contura said it planned to “reinstate immediately” 500 jobs at Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines if the sale is finalized.

  • Updated
  • 0

If approved, the deal could return as many as 700 workers to three mines for the next six to 12 years.

breaking
  • Updated
  • 0

The company reported insufficient funds to pay a $2.1 million insurance payment, along with $658,000 in unpaid payroll for employees that returned to work.

  • Updated
  • 0

An anticipated update from a bankrupt coal operator with two closed coal mines in Campbell County offered familiar news to hundreds of out-of-…

breaking
  • Updated
  • 0

If the company obtains funding over the weekend, the court may reconvene as soon as Monday.

breaking
  • Updated
  • 0

A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday approved interim funding for the owners of the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Campbell County. As …

breaking
  • Updated
  • 0

A representative for Blackjewel LLC claimed there was a fire at one of its two recently closed Wyoming mines, but a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality official said there was only smoke.

  • Updated
  • 0

If approved by a federal judge, the new funding source would likely allow the company to dodge Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The judge's decision is expected as soon as Wednesday morning.

  • Updated
  • 0

As of Tuesday morning, about 160 workers had come to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services in Gillette in search of help. There may be many more.

breaking
  • Updated
  • 0

Lawyers for bankrupt coal mine operators Blackjewel LLC told a federal judge late Tuesday afternoon that it had secured new financing — a sign…

  • Updated
  • 0

Wyoming coal producer Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy Monday, and unexpectedly closed the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines near Gillette, impac…

web only
  • Updated
  • 0

Here's the latest on the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mine closures in Campbell County.

  • Updated
  • 0

Two coal mines in Wyoming closed and sent 700 workers home Monday afternoon after their owner filed for bankruptcy.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

0 Comments
0
0
1
0
0

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News