On January 12, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington issued a unanimous ruling holding that both the Court of Appeals and the state’s Shorelines Hearing Board (Board) had erroneously interpreted the state’s Ocean Resources Management Act, Rev. Code of Wash. §§ 43.143.005 et seq. (ORMA), as having no application to applications submitted to the Board to expand two large oil terminals located on the shores of Grays Harbor. The case is Quinault Indian Nation, et al., v. Imperium Terminal Services, LLC, et al.

Westway Terminal Company LLC wants to expand its existing oil terminal by constructing four new above ground petroleum storage tanks. Imperium Terminal Services, LLC also hopes to expand its existing oil terminal by constructing nine additional above ground storage tanks. If both expansion projects were approved and constructed, there would be substantially increased train and ocean vessel traffic.

Both applicants filed for substantial shoreline development permits, but not ORMA permits, arguing that these were shoreline developments, not ocean-based projects subject to ORMA. The Washington Department of Ecology made a determination that both projects would not result in any substantial environmental impairment. The Board and Court of Appeals “held that ORMA does not apply to these projects based on limited definitions in the Department of Ecology’s (DOE) ORMAimplementation regulations.

The Washington Supreme Court disagreed and held that

[T]his interpretation improperly restricts ORMA, which was enacted to broadly protect against the environmental dangers of oil and other fossil fuels.

To the extent the Department of Ecology rejects this interpretation of ORMA, the Court held that it “could substitute [its] interpretation of the law for that of an agency.” Consequently, revised applications for the necessary permits must be submitted in accordance with the procedures established by ORMA.