Tacoma LNG project faces legal challenge from local group

Tacoma’s LNG site at the Port of Tacoma has faced a steady stream of critics since the start of its construction, and the fight now is moving into court.

A legal challenge was filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court against the Washington State Department of Ecology by Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, in a petition for judicial review of agency action regarding the issuance of water quality certification for the project.

In the filing, ACT, led by Tacoma resident Todd Hay, contends that “On June 10, 2019, the Department of Ecology denied ACT and Sierra Club’s request to reopen Ecology Administrative Order No. 13764, which granted a 401 Water Quality Certification ... for PSE’s proposed liquefied natural gas plant” in Tacoma.

“Although the Army Corps of Engineers has already issued the 404 permit for the Project, Ecology’s duty to comply with (the State Environmental Policy Act) ... is not moot.”

The case contends that Ecology violated SEPA issuing the certification without a full analysis in regard to the site’s emissions and other environmental effects.

Representatives for both the Department of Ecology and PSE, reached Tuesday by The News Tribune, declined to comment on the case pending further review.

ACT is a local nonprofit “committed to preserving, protecting, and improving the quality of the air, water, and land of Tacoma and surrounding communities,” as it describes itself in the filing, and has taken an active role in opposing the LNG project.

Hay, who was interviewed by The News Tribune about the LNG project last fall, has a website that includes data on the LNG project.

He explained last fall that his research about the LNG project is separate from his day job at NOAA Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. He also is a member of the city’s Sustainable Tacoma Commission..

Hay’s website highlights issues with the greenhouse gas life cycle analysis used by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for the final supplemental environmental impact statement on the project, set to fuel TOTE Maritime Alaska vessels and serve residential and commercial customers with natural gas reserves during extreme cold weather periods.

Both the draft report and the final version accepted by PSCAA were denounced by those opposed to the project, which continues to draw opposition from neighboring residents, environmentalists, the Puyallup Tribe, and most recently Gov. Jay Inslee, who withdrew support for the project and a methanol project in Kalama, which also once was planned for Tacoma.

“I cannot in good conscience support continued construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma or a methanol production facility in Kalama,” he said in a statement May 8.

That, in turn, forced PSE and the Port of Tacoma to issue statements in defense of the project.

“We’re confident that science and fact continue to support this facility,” spokesman Andy Wappler told The News Tribune in response to Inslee’s remarks at that time. “It is very clear the approving local and other agencies understand the benefits” of the LNG site.

“We take the governor at his word that his announcement does not change the rigorous regulatory review process with which the project has already complied,” the port said in a statement in May. “Though an imperfect solution to the climate challenges we face, LNG represents a significant improvement over using bunker fuel to power the cargo vessels that travel vast distances and drive our economy.”

Since then, representatives of PSE have also met with members of The News Tribune’s editorial board to make clear PSE was continuing the project, with or without Inslee’s blessing.

Hay, ACT’s president, in a statement issued Tuesday, said: “Given all of the recent international and national level reporting concerning the severity of the climate crisis and even Governor Inslee’s recent change of heart on the Tacoma LNG project, it is of the utmost importance that the Department of Ecology fulfill its responsibility and complete a full lifecycle climate impact analysis.”

“Ecology has a legal responsibility to consider the full environmental impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects, and Tacoma LNG is no exception,” Sierra Club Campaign Representative Stephanie Hillman said in a statement. “It is unacceptable to allow this massive fracked gas facility to be built in our state without considering the threat to our communities and our climate.”