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Railroad, trade groups file briefs backing stalled Wash. coal export terminal

Rail and trade groups filed briefs to support Lighthouse Resources Inc.'s lawsuit against Washington officials over a proposed coal export terminal, joining several states that have filed similar briefs in recent weeks.

The Association of American Railroads, or AAR, and the Western States Petroleum Association filed amicus briefs this week arguing that the state's denial of permits to the $680 million planned export terminal of Lighthouse subsidiary Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview LLC affects the national freight rail network and threatens to exclude U.S. commodities from foreign markets.

Backing Millennium Bulk customer BNSF Railway Co. in the case, the AAR underscored the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board over rail transportation and claimed that "limiting the amount of coal that can be transported to and from Longview is directly regulating transportation by a rail carrier as part of the interstate rail network."

"In this case, not only was the state regulatory action done for the express purpose of regulating rail traffic, but the state action would also have the effect of unreasonably burdening railroad operations by targeting the transportation of fossil fuel commodities," the railroad association said in a May 14 brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

The brief states that coal accounted for 32.2% of originated tonnage for U.S. class I railroads in 2017, far more than any other commodity.

Western States Petroleum, a nonprofit mutual benefit trade association, said the case "presents an unconstitutional overreach of local power that, if unchecked, would have devastating consequences."

"Defendants' concerted scheme to thwart the export of commodities they disfavor threatens to disrupt the sale of U.S. energy resources to foreign allies and contravenes federal foreign policy favoring fossil fuel export," it said in its May 15 brief.

AAR and Western States Petroleum join a growing number of parties supporting the proposed export terminal, including six states, four trade groups and Cowlitz County, which would be home to the terminal.