What started out as a proposal by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to build a liquefied natural-gas plant, to provide cleaner fuel for transportation and natural gas to its customers, has turned into a waterfront battle more bitter than anything this city has seen in years.
So bruised is Tacoma, the city has reworked its tribal consultation policy to ensure and improve early contact with tribal leaders, and banned any future fossil-fuel development on the tideflats while it undertakes a full-on planning review for its most important industrial area.
Opponents have taken up a battle cry of “No LNG in the Salish Sea,” and have turned out to show PSE just how contentious building a new fossil-fuel project in the region can be.
The liquefied natural-gas (LNG) plant is a small project compared with far larger proposed energy developments roiling the region, such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline in Canada. But it’s drawn a big response.
Climate activists and self-described Water Warriors have rappelled off construction cranes, chained themselves to plant gates and erected a tent city on the state capitol grounds. They’ve marched. They’ve erected a longhouse in front of the company’s Bellevue headquarters. Every night, they project the words “No permit No Construction” on the side of the tank, a dig at PSE for proceeding with construction without a pre-construction emissions permit.
The Puyallup Tribe, an economic and political powerhouse on the waterfront and a major employer in the area, is at the center of the LNG fight and has the support of allied tribes all over the Northwest and even the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, recalling the Puyallups’ support in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Tacoma LNG project arrived amid a buzz saw of momentum against fossil-fuel projects already whirring. In 2016, the coal port at Cherry Point was defeated after the Lummi Nation took on the project to defend its treaty fishing rights. That victory emboldened the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
President Donald Trump’s decision to snub the pipeline opposition and issue an executive order allowing construction to proceed — and his broader rejection of climate change and decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord — has galvanized the resistance to the Tacoma LPN plant, or any new fossil-fuel development in the Northwest, for that matter.
The most recent victories of the movement have been the Tesoro Savage oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Washington. In Tacoma, opponents in 2016 beat back a massive methanol export facility, also planned for the tideflats. Fresh from that win, many of the same opponents turned their attention to the LNG plant, despite its promise of cleaner fuel.