Congress "has not authorized states to regulate interstate commerce in relation to climate change, and has not enacted national legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions indirectly by limiting the sale or export of coal," Rob McKenna wrote earlier this week in a letter to the Corps of Engineers, Washington Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County.
McKenna was the Republican nominee who lost the race for Washington governor in 2012.
The three government entities are now determining the scope of the upcoming environmental review for the $650 million Millennium Bulk Terminals project planned by Ambre Energy Ltd. and Arch Coal Inc.
Trains would carry Rocky Mountain coal to the Longview terminal for export to Asia.
A similar terminal is planned at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, Wash. Another proposal would ship coal by barge down the Columbia River from Boardman, Ore., to a terminal at Clatskanie, Ore.
Five public meetings held around Washington state on the Longview project drew thousands of people, and 163,000 comments were submitted on the scope of the environmental study.
Environmental groups want a full range of impacts studied, similar to the review for the Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point. Last July, the Ecology Department said it would take a sweeping look at the proposal, including train traffic and the global-warming effects of burning exported coal in Asia.
McKenna wrote that such scope for the Longview project review would be unrealistically broad and speculative while requiring impossible assessments. It also would interfere with international trade and infringe on state rights, he said.
Montana and North Dakota "do not believe that the tremendous breadth of the Cherry Point scoping decision was legally justified," McKenna wrote. "We therefore encourage Ecology to limit the scoping decision to matters within the jurisdiction of the state of Washington."
McKenna's role was reported in The Seattle Times and The Bellingham Herald.
The National Park Service, the governors of Oregon and Washington, and others have asked regulators to look at the cumulative effects of proposed projects in Washington and Oregon and to consider the impacts beyond the two states.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and others have asked for a narrower focus, saying there's no precedent for a far-reaching analysis of coal exports.