The state of Washington has rules. Rules for air quality. Rules for water quality. Rules to keep its transportation systems moving as efficiently as possible.
The state of Utah does not not like those rules. Or, at least, does not like the way Washington’s governor and its various regulatory bureaucracies are choosing to enforce them in one particular case.
So Utah and five other states are supporting a coal-mining operation that has filed a federal lawsuit against Washington to demand that the federal government swoop in and make Washington make some different decisions than its own representative government has made. Specifically, they want a federal court order that would push aside Washington’s decision-making authority to allow the construction of a coal-exporting facility on the beautiful Columbia River.
This is Utah. This is the place where people seek, win and hold public office by resisting federal intervention in the decisions the state wants to make. Especially decisions about environmental regulations.
What this action makes obvious is that official Utah’s incessant caterwauling about the overreach of federal agencies is not really about a principled belief in states’ rights or local control. It’s about a preference for a certain result — that result being the ability of the extractive economy to have its way.
The official objection raised by Utah-based Lighthouse Resources — and joined by Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, South Dakota and Nebraska — is that Washington is interfering in interstate commerce. That it is discriminating against a product it does not like — coal — and thus unlawfully messing up the livelihoods of people who mine and process coal by making it harder to export some of that coal to Asian nations.
It is true that the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce. Generally, that means no tariffs or duties imposed on products that move from one state to another, no protectionism of products or commodities or services produced in one state to the exclusion of those from other states.
It does not mean states have to stand down their environmental, traffic, planning, worker safety or other regulations just to make life easier for a business plan.
And it is not as if Washington were keeping out Utah coal as a favor to Washington coal producers.
The state’s decisions are reasonably based on an analysis that building a coal port near the town of Longview will pose an unacceptable risk to the natural and human environment.
If Utah really doesn’t think Washington should have that authority, then there are probably some California wineries that would like to discuss Utah’s limits on the import of out-of-state chardonnay.