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article imageLawmakers plan lawsuits over West Coast coal port policies

By Karen Graham     Feb 14, 2018 in Politics
Lawmakers in coal-producing Utah and Wyoming, faced by a shrinking market for the fuel, this week introduced laws to fund legal challenges in California and Washington of policies that they believe hurt coal sales.
Lawmakers in Wyoming and Utah introduced legislation on Monday proposing the allocation of state funds that would allow the state legislatures to hire private attorneys to sue Washington and California over their coal policies.
Utah Republican Representative Mike Noel saw his legislation to set aside $2 million in state money to sue California over rules that make coal-fired power more expensive pass a subcommittee this week with only one Democratic lawmaker raising any objections. Noel says the California policy is hurting miners in his rural district and violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
It should be noted that Rep. Noel's proposed legislation is in addition to a lawsuit already in federal court in Oakland, brought by attorneys for coal export terminal developer Phil Tagami and Utah coal producer Bowie Resources, as reported by Digital Journal January 30.
The lawsuit alleges Oakland City Council used flawed scientific data in 2016 to reach their unanimous decision to reject the coal terminal proposal, one of two proposed, one in Oakland and the other in Washington state.
California Governor Jerry Brown was treated to a red carpet welcome in Beijing  including meeting wi...
California Governor Jerry Brown was treated to a red carpet welcome in Beijing, including meeting with President Xi Jinping, as China looks to forge relationships with US states on climate change
California's environmental policies hurt Utah miners
Noel's big argument and the reason for wanting a lawsuit against the state of California is about the clean energy state's cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions. California charges utilities an extra $15 per megawatt hour to buy power from Utah’s coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant. Noel says California's environmental policies "control Utah's rural coal community."
Many people are already saying this move by Noel is a big waste of taxpayer money. "Forcing Utahans to invest $2 million into this industry is asking them to take on an incredible risk that will yield no long-term benefits," said Ashley Soltysiak, Utah chapter director for the Sierra Club.
Wyoming lawmakers go after Washington state
Even though Wyoming is facing an $850 million state deficit, lawmakers have been asked to consider legislation that would earmark money to sue Washington state over coal export terminals, according to Think Progress.
View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette  in Wyoming s Powder River Basin. The open-pit  truc...
View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette, in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The open-pit "truck and shovel" mine produces low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal from the vast Roland and Smith seams.
Carol M. Highsmith
In a bill proposed on Monday by State Representative Chuck Gray (R), and co-sponsored by four other Republican representatives, they are asking that $250,000 in state funds be set aside to be used to retain private counsel to help pay for lawsuits challenging Washington state’s denial of several permits related to coal export terminals.
In this case, the bill's authors allege Washington state is in violation of the U.S. Constitution by interfering with both interstate commerce and commerce with foreign nations. And this is critical to the nation's largest coal-producing state because Cloud Peak announced a deal earlier this month to ship coal from a Montana mine to two new coal gasification power plants in Fukushima, Japan. Problem is, the only coal port facility in western North America is in British Columbia, Canada, and it's at near capacity.
According to the bill, the proposed “coal export terminal litigation account” is necessary to prevent “further harm of serious magnitude to the economic and proprietary interests of the state of Wyoming.” Wyoming is a leading coal producer in the country, accounting for about 40 percent of all coal mined in the United States in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Coal production trends in the top 5 US coal states  1985-2015  data from US Energy Information Admin...
Coal production trends in the top 5 US coal states, 1985-2015, data from US Energy Information Administration as of November 2016.
And as a fact check, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2016, Wyoming was the biggest coal-producing state at 297.2 million short tons, accounting for 41 percent of total coal production. Wyoming has 16 coal mines, with 15 being surface mines and just one underground. A total of 5,756 people work Wyoming's mines, with just 279 working underground.
Utah has eight mines, seven of them underground and one surface mine. The state produced a total of 13,966 short tons of coal in 2016. A total of 1,178 people work in coal mines in Utah, with just 49 working the one surface mine and 1,129 working underground.
More about coal ports, Coal, Lawsuits, Wyoming, Utah
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