The Washington Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Port of Vancouver regarding a controversial proposed oil terminal.
Environmental groups had argued that the Port skirted state law by agreeing to a lease before exploring alternatives through the environmental review process.
The state Supreme Court sided with lower court decisions that the Port’s lease with Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies followed Washington law. The high court agreed there are sufficient contingencies in the lease to allow for possible alternatives.

The decision drew immediate praise from both the Port of Vancouver and the energy developers backing the project.

“We appreciate the court’s ruling,” said Abbi Russell, Communications Manager at the Port of Vancouver. “This is an important decision for us and for our industry. It confirms that the Port of Vancouver is adhering to the law and doing the right thing as we look to bring employers and jobs to our community and region. We look forward to continuing the permitting process with Vancouver Energy.”

Tesoro-Savage wants to build what would be the nation’s largest oil-by-train terminal in Vancouver. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say on whether the project is built and is expected to decide later this year — a fact acknowledged by the project’s backers in their statement on the Supreme Court ruling.

“Vancouver Energy believes the Court’s decision correctly recognizes and balances the commitments required to enter the state of Washington’s permitting process while also allowing for a thorough assessment of the project by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council,” said Jeff Hymas with Savage Services, the company developing the Tesoro Savage terminal. “That was the intent of the lease from the beginning.” 

Environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper has led the push against the project. Its lead attorney in ongoing litigation, Miles Johnson, emphasized that the Supreme Court decision is far from the end of the debate over the oil terminal.

“The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t really change the landscape of this project,” Johnson said. “EFSAC [Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council] and Governor Inslee are going to make a decision about whether or not this project should go forward. They have engaged in a very thorough process in which they’ve heard from Vancouver citizens and communities up and down the river that would be affected by oil-by-rail, Treaty Tribes […]. So we think that EFSAC and the Governor will do the right thing and deny this project.”

Johnson noted that there’s another decision pending before the Washington Supreme Court brought by environmental groups, also involving process. He said the high court has heard arguments over possible public meeting violations in the drafting of the lease. Johnson said even a decision in Riverkeeper’s favor would be unlikely to block the lease. However, it could further influence Gov. Inslee, already skeptical of fossil fuel development, from approving it.