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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

November 21, 2013 at 4:25 PM

On behalf of North Dakota and Montana, McKenna calls Washington coal study unconstitutional

Former Attorney General Rob McKenna has written a letter to Washington state on behalf of Montana and North Dakota that questions the constitutionality of Washington’s Department of Ecology review of a proposed coal-export terminal.

“Some of the issues to be evaluated by Ecology transgress the boundaries of the States, infringing on (Montana and North Dakota’s) sovereignty,” McKenna wrote in a letter sent Monday, adding the review “ranges far beyond the boundaries of legitimate state interest.”

He also wrote that the review of the proposed Gateway Terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, “is unrealistically broad, includes speculative impacts, requires impossible assessments of foreign environmental impacts, and appears to have been designed to hinder the development of that terminal.”

The nine-page letter marks a surprising entrance by McKenna into the fight over coal exports, which was a major issue in his unsuccessful 2012 bid for governor against Jay Inslee.

During the campaign, McKenna voiced support for coal-export terminals, but said any proposals would have to undergo a thorough environmental review.

Washington state’s review is one of three under way for the proposed Cherry Point facility, which would create the largest coal-export terminal on the West Coast, shipping as much as 48 million tons of Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia. The other reviews are being done by the federal government and Whatcom County.

Washington state has said its review will be much broader than the other two.

All three entities will get a say in whether the terminal is built, and each is to base its decision on its own review.

The letter was sent because Washington state is now deciding the breadth of a review of a second proposed coal terminal, in Longview.

Montana and North Dakota, McKenna wrote, would like Washington state to take a more limited approach to reviewing the proposed Longview terminal.

In a post on his website, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said he is interested in the issue because “access to overseas markets is vital to Montana’s economy.”

McKenna’s letter was topped by letterhead from the international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. McKenna became a partner there in February, a few months after losing the governor’s race.

On Thursday, environmentalists criticized McKenna for getting involved on behalf of entities supporting coal.

“It’s hard to believe that Rob McKenna is opposing Washington’s efforts to keep dirty coal out of our communities,” said Collin Jergens, spokesman for the liberal group Fuse Washington. “Why is Rob McKenna fighting for North Dakota instead of Washington?”

McKenna did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.

Comments | More in State government | Topics: coal, coal trains, Collin Jergens


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