BNSF Sues Washington State Leaders Over Denial of Coal Train Contracts

BNSF Railway company, the firm that recently announced plans to spend $100 million on rail improvements in Oklahoma is taking another state to court.  The company wants to join a lawsuit filed by Lighthouse Resources against Washington Governor Jay Inslee and members of his administration, accusing them of violating the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.

FNSF filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington contending that Washington state officials have unduly burdened interstate commerce and violated the Constitution’s dormant commerce clause but using rail impracts to deny permits for Millennium Bulk terminals. The railway says when it comes to regulating railroad operations, federal law preempts state regulation.


“As a common carrier, BNSF is required by federal law to move regulated goods, including coal,” said Roger Nober, BNSF’s executive vice president Law and Corporate Affairs. “Permitting this facility should have followed the long-established process of making a determination based on site-specific impacts, instead they have taken it upon themselves to deny permits based on so-called rail impacts. This is a very clear violation of federal law.”

BNSF’s complaint outlines how Washington state officials violated ICCTA by using the transportation of coal by rail as the basis for denying permits for Millennium Bulk Terminals. Federal law preempts state regulation of railroad operations.

The complaint also shows the defendants have interfered with BNSF’s ability to engage in foreign commerce through the transport of coal to Millennium for export to Asian markets, in violation of the dormant foreign commerce clause. BNSF’s complaint also contends that Washington state officials’ actions amount to an embargo on American coal exports, which is also a violation of the foreign commerce clause.