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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wyoming lawmakers seek bigger role in coal-export litigation

In this photo taken Dec. 18, 2018, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon poses for a photo in a state office in Cheyenne, Wyo. A Republican, Gordon was sworn in as governor Monday and gave his first state of the state speech Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Wyoming's new governor says the state should continue to fight to enable more U.S. coal exports overseas. (Mead Gruver / AP)
By Mead Gruver Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday that Wyoming isn’t being more aggressive with legal action involving a disputed coal-export facility and advanced a measure to pursue their own lawsuit against Washington state.

The bill passed 7-2 by the House Judiciary Committee would authorize lawmakers, after the legislative session concludes in March, to consider suing Washington for denying a crucial permit for a proposed Pacific Ocean coal-shipping terminal.

Wyoming and five other states – Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah – are filing friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the developer of a proposed $680 million shipping facility at Longview, Washington. Suing Washington outright and being more directly involved as a party to the case could be more effective, said Republican Rep. Clark Stith, of Rock Springs.

“If you’re not a party to a lawsuit, you just don’t have the same standing to exert control over the litigation,” he said.

The Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana is the nation’s top coal-producing region.

Officials in both states hope that more exports could offset declining domestic demand. They view the permit’s denial as a political move that violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce.

Six other states – California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Oregon – have filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.

Wyoming’s new Republican governor, Mark Gordon, has said challenging Washington over coal exports will be a priority for his administration but has not yet said what exactly he intends to do about the litigation filed in 2018 by the coal terminal’s developer, Salt Lake City-based Lighthouse Resources.

The bill could pressure Gordon to take stronger action, Stith said.

“I’m sorry that the Legislature has to do this to push the executive in the right direction,” said another committee member, Republican Rep. Tim Salazar, of Dubois.

The bill’s prospects are uncertain. Should it clear the Legislature, Gordon would need to sign off on it.

The bill would not likely affect the lawsuit as it stands now and Wyoming officials may yet consider other options including potentially intervening in the case, Cara Chambers with the attorney general’s office told the committee.