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Critics appalled as controversial Tacoma LNG plant moves closer to final approval

Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas project on Tacoma’s Tideflats is one step closer to completion.

On Monday, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency said it reviewed the project’s Notice of Construction Application and “made a preliminary determination that the proposal meets all the requirements of Agency Regulations I, II and III and should be approved.”

The announcement now is followed by a public-comment period and August public hearing in Tacoma at the Rialto Theater over the final air permit for the project — the last major permitting milestone.

Puget Sound Energy told The News Tribune in a statement: “We are looking forward to this step forward in the process for a project that will both benefit the environment and PSE customers.”

When asked about continuing construction ahead of a final clean air agency permit action, Puget Sound Energy said: “Construction is underway on non-emitting portions of the facility only. Work to install the conversion equipment won’t begin until the final permit is issued.”

Opponents of the LNG project were critical of the clean air agency’s latest announcement, as they were after the agency’s release in March of its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that looked at the project’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Leaders of the Puyallup Tribe expressed their displeasure with the preliminary approval announced Monday.

“Puget Sound Energy’s fracked gas project is an insult to the Puyallup Tribe and a threat to the global environment,” said Chairman David Z. Bean, speaking for the Tribal Council. “We continue to oppose the project, which is sited on our ancestral homeland. We call on Gov. Jay Inslee to initiate a new review of the project that properly addresses its impacts.”

The plant, as proposed, would produce between 250,000-500,000 gallons a day of LNG. The LNG would be stored in a 8 million-gallon tank under construction on the Tideflats. The plant would provide about 900,000 gallons of LNG each week to TOTE Maritime for its two Alaska ships.

The plant also would provide about 6-8 million gallons of LNG for local customers during peak winter demand. Puget Sound Energy, in promotions of the project, says the site would help boost the reliability of the fuel supply for Western Washington.

LNG is promoted as a cleaner alternative to the bunker fuel used on marine vessels and as a way to lower greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce particulates in the air.

Others contend it is just another polluting fossil fuel and should not be relied upon, even in the short term.

According to the clean air agency’s latest announcement:

“The emissions associated with this project were evaluated and could total up to 49 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, 9.1 tons per year of sulfur dioxides, 1.2 tons per year of particulate matter, 3.8 tons per year of nitrogen oxides, 12 tons per year of carbon monoxide, 0.37 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants, and 1.03 tons per year of toxic air contaminants, excluding the other criteria pollutants.”

The notice from the clean air agency on Monday initially stated 12 tons per year of carbon dioxide instead of carbon monoxide, which the agency later told The News Tribune was a typographical error.

Criticism has grown through the years about the project, most recently focused on the science behind the review of greenhouse-gas emissions and other environmental-impact studies.

On Monday, other critics joined the Puyallup Tribe in condemning the project.

“This preliminary determination is unacceptable and disregards the many negative impacts that Tacoma LNG would have on air quality, public health and safety, and Washington’s climate goals,” the Power Past Fracked Gas Coalition said in a statement Monday. The coalition includes different health, environmental, faith, and community groups opposed to the project.

It called on the agency to “reconsider and deny” the notice of construction application.

Inslee has already weighed in on the project with a reversal of his opinion and withdrawal of support in May for the LNG plant and a methanol plant in Kalama.

Despite his objection to the projects, he also said at that time that his stance did not change the state’s regulatory process.

“As is the case with any project, our state agencies will comply with state and federal laws to ensure a rigorous and objective review of projects,” he said. “Decisions on permit applications must also be made in accordance with state and federal law.”

The clean air agency sent out an advance notice last week that it was nearing a decision on the application. On Friday, members of the Puyallup Water Warriors held a prayer circle in clean air agency’s Seattle office.

The gathering eventually turned into an impromptu Q&A with staff about air quality at and around the port, as well as what the staff explained as a gap in state law that does not account for cumulative emission effects, with agencies only charged with looking at individual sites.

The visit was posted on Facebook by 350 Seattle.

Although Monday’s preliminary approval signified progress for Puget Sound Energy, the project still faces a legal challenge over the issuing of a water quality certification without a full analysis of the site’s emissions and other environmental effects.

Tacoma resident Todd Hay leads Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, the group that filed the SEPA challenge. He told The News Tribune in response to questions via email Monday evening that he hadn’t yet had a chance to do a deep dive in the numbers contained in clean air agency’s Monday announcement.

Hay said the numbers at first glance seem low and different from those contained in both the city’s final environmental impact statement and clean air agency’s greenhouse gas-focused assessment, which analyzed of the life cycle of greenhouse-gas emissions caused by the proposed plant.

“They both contradict what PSCAA is now stating,” he said.

Carole Cenci, the clean air agency’s compliance manager, told The News Tribune the agency would update its website and notify people on its mailing list of the correction concerning the carbon dioxide/monoxide error in Monday’s notice.

DOCUMENTS, PUBLIC COMMENT

DOCUMENTS: The application and the information used in making the preliminary determination are available for review at the agency’s office: 1904 3rd Ave, Suite 105, Seattle. The proposed Order of Approval and associated review documents and application materials related to Order No. 11386 also are available online: www.pscleanair.org/PSELNGPermit.

PUBLIC COMMENT: From July 22 to Sept. 9, 2019, people can send comments in writing to Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, 1904 Third Ave, Suite 105, Seattle, WA 98101 or via email to publiccomment@pscleanair.org or via fax to 206-343-7522

PUBLIC HEARING: 2-5 p.m. and 6:30-10 p.m, Aug. 27 at the Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma.

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