The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday to decide whether a state law to protect ocean resources applies to crude oil export projects proposed at the Port of Grays Harbor.
“The case stems from the initial 2013 shoreline permits granted for Westway (Terminals),” said Kristen Boyles, the Earthjustice attorney arguing on behalf of the Quinault Tribe against the Port’s proposed crude oil storage and transportation facility. The tribe maintains the project falls under the standards set in the Ocean Resources Management Act (ORMA) and therefore needs to face the much higher level of scrutiny that comes with an ORMA review.
“The Tribe is trying to argue that this tank project falls under ORMA,” said Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay. He and attorneys for the Dept. of Ecology and the city maintain ORMA pertains only to projects off the shoreline, “offshore drilling for instance.” He went on to say that applying ORMA to the Port project is “not what was intended with the law.”
Boyles will argue ORMA does indeed cover the shipping of oil, not just its extraction from the sea floor. “This is the first time (ORMA) has ever been interpreted like this,” she said. In this case, “what the court will rule is whether or not (ORMA) applies to projects like this. That is the only question in front of the court.”
A recent appeals court decision sided with Ecology and the city, prompting the tribe to file an appeal to the state’s highest court, leading to Thursday’s 9 a.m. hearing in Olympia.
If the court rules to uphold the most recent appellate court’s decision the permitting process would continue as it has since Ecology released its final environmental impact statement on the project Sept. 30. Should the court reverse the rule of the appellate court “there would be an additional review process that would kick in for permit purposes,” said Boyles, who adds that ORMA has “much stricter requirements” than the current permitting process.