Washington Supreme Court Delivers Victory for Open Government

Ruling calls into question the future of proposal for nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal.

June 8, 2017 (Olympia, WA) – The Washington Supreme Court today rejected the Port of Vancouver USA’s interpretation of the Open Public Meetings Act. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center alleged that the Port violated the Open Public Meetings Act by holding closed-door meetings about the nation’s largest oil-by-rail proposal.

“Today’s decision is a victory for people who believe in open, accountable government,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling comes as scandal consumes Washington D.C. and affirms the responsibility of our state and local elected officials to answer to the people — not Big Oil in backroom deals.”

In 2013, Tesoro-Savage (Tesoro) began working with the Port of Vancouver to secure public land for a future oil-by-rail terminal. Before the public learned about the oil-by-rail proposal, the Port commissioners met in secret with each other — and with representatives of Tesoro — to discuss the proposal and a lease agreement. The Port leased land to Tesoro, paving the way for the highly controversial terminal. Public interest groups alleged that those secret meetings violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. In today’s ruling, the Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the Port’s over-broad interpretation of the law.

The court’s decision states: “[T]he Port’s interpretation [of the Open Public Meetings Act] would  achieve precisely what the legislature sought to prevent: ‘real estate business’ being discussed ‘in secret.’” Opinion at p.22. The court explained that the “Tesoro-Savage lease involved topics that were clearly matters of substantial public concern, including environmental risks, public safety hazards, and local economic impacts.” Id. at 19. The Port’s interpretation of the law “would invade the people’s right to decide for themselves ‘what is good for [them] to know and what is not good for them to know.’” Id.

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