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Oregon rejects Wyoming's appeal of denial of application to build coal port on Columbia River

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PORTLAND, Oregon — The Oregon Department of State Lands has denied an appeal by the State of Wyoming that sought to revive a proposed coal terminal project on the Columbia River, leaving proponents with fewer avenues to bring it to life.

Oregon's lands department rejected the terminal in August and Wyoming appealed, saying the state would be adversely affected by the project's denial.

But the Department of State Lands found that Wyoming had no standing to appeal its rejection of the proposed terminal. Oregon ruled that building the terminal would threaten its water resources.

Mary Abrams, director of the Department of State Lands, wrote in a ruling released Thursday that Wyoming failed to show it was either adversely affected or aggrieved by the denial. Attorneys for the state of Wyoming apparently argued the state would suffer because of the permit denial. But that's not what they were supposed to argue.

Instead, for Wyoming to have standing in the case, it had to show how the approved project would adversely affect the state. The mix-up proved fatal to Wyoming's appeal.

Wyoming's appeals "speak to the alleged harm that Wyoming will suffer as a result of the permit denial," Abrams wrote. "There is no evidence that Wyoming's interests will be 'harmed, degraded or destroyed' if the permit were granted.

"Wyoming has therefore failed to establish that it is 'adversely affected' by the department's permit decision."

Wyoming also failed to issue a statement during the public comment period on Oregon's review, Abrams wrote, and by doing so, failed to preserve the state's standing in the case.

When asked whether Wyoming's attorneys simply misunderstood the appeals requirement, Oregon Department of State Lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis declined to comment. Michelle Panos, spokeswoman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, said Friday that the administration hasn't made any decision on how to respond to Oregon.

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael did not immediately return calls or emails from The Associated Press on Friday morning.

Wyoming, the nation's leading coal-producing state, has been increasingly looking to Asian markets as a possible salvation as tighter federal regulations on coal power plants have combined with cheap and plentiful natural gas to make the future of the domestic coal market increasingly bleak.

Mead and Wyoming lawmakers have undertaken repeated trade missions on Asia to prospect for potential markets in anticipation of being able to export coal from deep water ports in the Northwest. Mead joked on returning from one recent trip that Asian demand for Wyoming coal was so high that if he had carried any in his pockets, he could have sold it on the spot.

Wyoming also is pressing legal challenges against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal plant emissions, which the state fears will drag down the demand for coal.

Working people in Wyoming's coal country are well aware of the hazards facing their industry and their livelihoods. More than 300 people gathered last week in Gillette, Wyoming, for a rally in support of coal and against EPA regulations to cut emissions from coal plants. The event drew Mead and both of Wyoming's U.S. senators.

However, Wyoming's coal export ambitions have run into stiff opposition in the Northwest, where a coterie of conservation groups have lined up in opposition to the project, along with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a noted opponent of the proposed terminal.

Governors of the respective states involved in the project are at loggerheads over its future. Mead, a Republican, has said Oregon's decision to block the terminal violates the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The project's prospects further dimmed last month when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brought its review of the proposed coal export terminal to an immediate halt while a judge considers appeals of the Oregon land department's denial of the coal export permit.

Curtis said Oregon will proceed with a hearing on separate appeals from Coyote Island Terminal, LLC, the company that proposed the terminal, and from the Port of Morrow, where it would be built.

Curtis said the appeals would be combined into one hearing.


Neary reported from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Reach Duara at https://www.twitter.com/nigelduara

Reach Neary at https://twitter.com/BenNeary2

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