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LNG site resumes permit process after new report backs findings of earlier review

After months of review, two public hearings and thousands of public comments, the final version of a report prepared for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will do little to calm the fight over a liquified natural gas plant being constructed on Tacoma’s Tideflats.

More than a year after calling for an environmental review of Puget Sound Energy’s planned facility, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency released the final report Friday.

Similar to the draft review released in early October, the final supplemental environmental impact statement listed three major conclusions that echo the first round of findings, with minor tweaks:

It maintains the plant would “result in an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, a net beneficial impact compared to the no-action alternative.”

It says the source of natural gas supply needs to come from British Columbia or Alberta “but entering Washington through British Columbia.” It maintains that the site’s air permit, if approved, “include the condition regarding the sole source of natural gas through British Columbia as a requirement so the analysis and this conclusion is consistent with the proponent’s project description.”

It says the facility “will not cause significant adverse impact from greenhouse gas emissions,” even if assumptions in the life-cycle analysis were to change, as long as the source for natural gas is through British Columbia.

The draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the LNG plant, released in October, also concluded that the project would lower greenhouse gas emissions if the fuel was sourced only from British Columbia.

The draft report was denounced by environmentalists, people who live near the plant and others, including members of The Puyallup Tribe.

As a result, the agency received thousands of comments on the draft SEIS. In Tacoma, two public hearings in October at the Rialto Theater drew crowds of opposition vastly outnumbering those in support of the plant.

The volume of responses sent to the agency pushed its work to the end of March. The final SEIS released Friday was previously scheduled to be released in February.

On Friday, PSE issued a response to the environmental review of its LNG site.

“The SEIS issued today reiterates that the Tacoma LNG project will result in a net reduction in greenhouse gases,” said Grant Ringel, PSE’s director of communications.

“We’re very hopeful the SEIS will clear the way for an efficient issuance of the necessary air permit which will allow the facility to move forward to begin achieving that and other environmental benefits.”

Citizens for a Healthy Bay, which was critical of the report in its draft form in October, remained displeased with the findings Friday.

“We’re still going through the report,” said the group’s executive director, Melissa Malott, in a phone interview. “But from what I’ve read so far, I’m disappointed, and I’m surprised how disappointing it is.”

Malott said she was particularly surprised that it maintained use of a 100-year span of measuring greenhouse gas effects in its review, which the group criticized when it was used in the earlier report.

The group contends that since methane’s potency is much higher in the first few decades it is emitted, it requires a shorter time frame of measurement.

“Examining the impact of methane emissions on a shorter time line would show the climate impact of the LNG plant to be much worse than the no-action alternative,” the group’s letter stated in October.

With the new report, “this project will have its worst climate impacts at a time when we need to be most serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists say we have 12 years to get to a 50 percent reduction,” Malott said Friday. “It just doesn’t make sense on its face.”

A news release from members of The Puyallup Tribe, who also have been active in speaking out against the project, rejected the findings.

“By finding that an 8-million gallon fossil fuel project with fuel shipped from hundreds of miles away would not cause significant adverse climate impacts, this project strains credulity,” the news release stated.

Chairman Bill Sterud, in the release, said: “Puget Sound Energy’s fracked gas project is sited on our homeland in an area we have inhabited since time immemorial, and where many of our tribal members live today.”

He added that the project “is a direct threat to our well-being and our way of life.”

The tribe called on the governor and the Washington Department of Ecology to initiate a supplemental review. “We demand a legitimate review that honors the Tribe’s legal rights to consultation, that evaluates the many changes to the project, and that fairly weighs the science of methane leaks from fracked gas infrastructure,” said Sterud in the release.

Friday’s review was ordered last year by the clean air agency to analyze of the life cycle of greenhouse-gas emissions caused by the proposed 8-million gallon plant as part of obtaining a required air permit.

Not everyone was critical of the findings.

“The PSCAA review shows that the initial EIS findings are supported by additional analysis,” said Jenn Adrien, media representative for the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. “This final recommendation should lead to reasonable and quick issuance of the final permits and allow the LNG facility to be completed in a timely manner.”

Meredith Neal, director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Tacoma, said Friday that the review “confirms that LNG is an incrementally better step toward a cleaner future. Industry in the Tideflats recognizes a shared responsibility in creating a cleaner future and continues to lead by introducing clean energy options.

“The SEIS findings should allow the air permit to be issued, allowing the facility to start fueling ships that currently rely on bunker fuel and improving the local air that we all breathe,” she said. “We need to make sure that our port remains competitive and having the preferred fuel source available is an important step in keeping global trade lines open and supporting manufacturing and industrial jobs in the region.”

She also noted that “the average manufacturing job in Washington state pays $72,000 a year, and many are located here in the South Sound because of our deepwater port. We need to work together to ensure that we are safeguarding and improving people’s lives, creating a sustainable environment, and providing the jobs that anchor our local and state economy.”

Before this review was ordered, PSE had been issued a notice of violation by the clean air agency for “failure to obtain a notice of construction approval prior to construction, installation, establishment or modification of a source,” according to a letter the agency sent PSE.

Steve Van Slyke, compliance director with PSCAA, told The News Tribune in January 2018 that PSE did not have a complete application at that time, and didn’t have the construction permit needed for its air permit. In the course of reviewing the permit application, the agency decided more work was needed to measure greenhouse-gas emissions tied to the project.

On its website Friday, the clean air agency said that after this report, “The Agency will recommence processing the Notice of Construction. There will be opportunities for public comment (including a hearing) on any proposed NOC approval, when the Agency reaches that stage in the process.”

The report is at https://bit.ly/2HKzXeJ

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