Tacoma is fully engaged in its environmental future, if measured by turnout Tuesday at three sessions seeking public comment on two major issues.
Two of the public meetings heard comments on an environmental review of Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas plant, under construction on the Tideflats. The first session alone had 130 people sign up to speak.
After that, some of those who offered LNG comments were among the 20 people who signed up to weigh in before the City Council on interim regulations on what can be done on the Tideflats.
The hearings came a week after a marathon public session before the City Council where 65 comments were heard concerning the interim regulations.
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The afternoon and evening LNG hearings at the Rialto Theater addressed a draft supplemental environmental review of the plant, released Oct. 8 and ordered by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
The review — a lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — supplemented the city’s final environmental impact statement of the $310 million project.
The operation would convert 250,000 gallons of natural gas a day to LNG. The plant primarily would provide about 900,000 gallons of LNG each week to TOTE Maritime for its two Alaska ships.
The bulk of the comments were critical of the environmental review and reflected criticisms by Citizens for a Healthy Bay and others: dissatisfaction with its use of 2007 science and the 100-year time frame for assessing the potential effects of greenhouse gases.
The 2007 numbers are outdated and the effects of emissions should be measured in a shorter time frame, critics have said.
Others took issue with the reports use of placeholder numbers instead of specific figures in assessments, along with math errors.
Group representatives, including those with Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, hit on the same theme: Do a new study using newer science, a shorter time frame and correct numbers.
Those speaking in support of the report saw using LNG for fuel as an improvement from the current marine vessel bunker fuel and the city’s environmental past.
Jenn Adrian said she was a fifth-generation Tacoman who grew up when the Asarco copper smelter was operating.
“I know all too well what it’s like to live in a dirty, polluted city, and it’s exactly why I support the LNG plant,” said Adrian, vice president of communications for the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. “LNG is a way forward, a way to move beyond the dirty industrial past.”
Meredith Neal, who leads the Manufacturing Industrial Council for the South Sound, was at the afternoon LNG hearing and later at the City Council session.
“Is there a way to reach consensus? I’m not sure ... at the root people don’t agree what the facts are,” she told The News Tribune outside the LNG hearing.
“There’s a lot of emotion around this,” she said. “With the Tideflats overall I think we can (reach consensus), but with the LNG facility I’m not sure we’ll be able to ever reach a consensus, and I suspect as we move forward people will continue to be unhappy about it.”
“I support the LNG facility because of my family, because of my children. I want a cleaner future for my children and I do think shifting to newer technologies is part of the way we’re going to get there.”
Many speakers referenced their families’ futures amid the use of fossil fuel and the latest report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on how little time is left to avoid a climate tipping point.
That could be as as soon as 12 years by IPCC’s estimate.
Others asked what the world would be like for their grandchildren in 12 years if the IPCC’s predictions come to pass with continued fossil fuel investment and development.
Tuesday’s comments were consistent with those on social media “in terms of challenging the conventional wisdom of the science and parameters used to measure major greenhouse gases,” David Mills, senior vice president of Policy and Energy Supply for PSE, told The News Tribune on Tuesday.
As for the criticism of how the report assesses the effects of greenhouse gases, “We’ve always supported — and both the initial EIS and the supplemental (SEIS) also support — these traditional measures like 100-year global warming potential,” Mills said.
“We do believe an industry standard methodology needs to be used, that’s something we’ve been consistent on, and today that methodology is 100-year (GWP).”
He also reiterated that the company will be able to document that getting natural gas only from British Columbia would provide lower greenhouse gas emissions. That was a key requirement in the report.
“That won’t be an issue,” he said.
Opponents at the hearing also questioned the accuracy of the emissions reporting figures supporting that requirement.
Beyond the details of the report, many commenters said the Puyallup Tribe of Indians wasn’t included enough in the process leading to the LNG plant.
Tribal council member Annette Bryan, in prepared remarks made at the hearing, supported those disputing the report’s findings.
“The current science on LNG is not reflected in this study,” she said. “... This PSCAA study is nothing more than a false promise to the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the citizens of Tacoma. It must be rejected and at minimum redone.”
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and its consultant, Ecology and Environment Inc., will decide whether to make significant revisions to the science or data in the report, said PSE’s Mills. “That in their court.”
The agency is expected to release a final environmental impact statement in February before considering an air permit for the LNG plant.
“I’m fully expecting to have an air permit in hand late winter, early spring and be able to resume construction on the project,” Mills said.
The City Council did not dive into the LNG issue at its Tuesday meeting but public comments on extending interim regulations covering the Tideflats were heavy on references to climate change and included occasional references to the nearby LNG hearings.
The ordinance extending the regulations had a first reading Tuesday. A second reading is scheduled for Nov. 13.
According to the city, the interim regulations, enacted last November, were designed to:
▪ Limit certain new industrial uses.
▪ “Limit potential residential encroachment on industrial uses within the Port of Tacoma and Tideflats area.”
▪ Prevent converting industrial properties to non-industrial uses until permanent standards are established for the area.
Business representatives expressed concern that the interim regulations add to uncertainties in planning for growth. Supporters saw them as a necessary regulatory compromise until the “subarea plan” is finished.
The subarea process is a city planning initiative to coordinate development, environmental review and capital investments for the area.
The IPCC report was referenced again at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Its call for “unprecedented transformation” to reach climate targets was essentially a wakeup call for the area in determining the Tideflats’ future, said Melissa Malott, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay.
“You are going to hear a lot about uncertainty tonight, but keep in mind the certainty scientists are warning of,” she said.
TO COMMENT ON LNG REPORT
Public comment on the LNG plant’s draft environmental review will continue to be accepted through Nov. 21:
▪ By mail: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency ATTN: Public Comment on DSEIS, PSE LNG Project, 1904 Third Ave, Suite 105 Seattle, WA 98101
▪ Fax: 206-343-7522
▪ Email: email@example.com