Supporters of the Millennium Bulk Terminals project have anticipated that 2017 will be the beginning of the end in the state and federal approval process for the company’s proposed export facility. But as we have come to expect with this project, there will always be those who try to push political agendas at the expense of vital infrastructure investment.
This month was no different. Outgoing Washington State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark denied a sublease needed for one of the Millennium project’s loading docks in Longview. While the knee jerk reaction by the media portrayed this decision as a “blow” to the terminals’ final approval, CEO Bill Chapman assured everyone that the decision “has no effect on the project,” and described Goldmark’s action as a “symbolic gesture” by a Commissioner before he exits office.
A recent piece in Fox News quoted Rob McKenna, a former Washington attorney general, on the announcement, who cited a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Inter-State Commerce Clause.
The Inter-State Commerce Clause says that the flow of commerce between states should not be impeded, and in the case of Goldmark’s actions, the move is a clear slight to coal interests in Wyoming and Montana that would ship the fuel via trains to Washington for export. McKenna stated:
“These ports are for the Western United States, and the landlocked states who want to be able to export products overseas need access to those ports. I think it raises real constitutional issues when states systematically try to deny them access to those ports.”
McKenna is absolutely right. Millennium’s project is a development for the Western United States as a whole, and there is much more at stake than the jobs in Southwest Washington. Asian demand for coal is growing. In fact, China breaks ground on a new coal plant every week, and India, Vietnam, and Japan are expanding their capacity as well. This increased demand presents a tremendous opportunity for coal producers in Wyoming and Montana. But as landlocked states, they are only able to transport their coal to ports on the West Coast via rail.
As CEO Bill Chapman noted, Goldmark’s actions are largely symbolic and fall in line with other environmentalist efforts on the West Coast to oppose fossil fuel related projects at all costs. But it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind. A violation of the U.S. Constitution cannot be justified by the whims of any one faction, and Millennium’s project would support jobs and families in Wyoming, Montana, Washington and every state along the rail lines in between. Opponents of Millennium would be wise to keep in mind the greater implications of their fight.