LNG foes protest ‘affront to human rights,’ backers see ‘right direction’ at latest hearing

Compared with October’s LNG hearing, this one was a little more heated, and not just outside the venue.

Those opposed, and, to a smaller extent, in favor of Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas facility on the Tacoma Tideflats spent a warm, sunny afternoon inside the Rialto Theater.

The two sides were gathered for Tuesday’s hearing held by Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The agency is considering an approval order for the LNG project’s facility construction permit.

In October, it held a similar hearing in two sessions to consider input on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement and released the final report in March.

The agency in July said it had completed a review of the project’s Notice of Construction Application and had made “a preliminary determination that the proposal meets all the requirements of Agency Regulations I, II and III and should be approved.”

Roughly 400 people showed up at the theater for the first of two sessions Tuesday to weigh in on that decision.

Most were there to voice opposition, showing up early to march and rally downtown.

Jessica Zimmerle, program and outreach director of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light, told The News Tribune before the hearing that the faith communities she works with sees this as a moral issue.

“We believe everybody deserves clean air, clean water and safe communities. This facility is an affront to all those human rights,” Zimmerle said.

In a statement sent out Tuesday afternoon, Stephanie Hillman, co-lead of the Power Past Fracked Gas coalition, said:

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s preliminary determination is completely unacceptable. Construction of this facility violates the treat rights of the Puyallup Tribe, it disregards the fact that we are in the middle of a climate crisis, and it puts the citizens of Tacoma in harm’s way. PSCAA needs to reconsider their role in this and deny the permit.”

The Puyallup Tribe also was represented by many members.

In a statement tribal council chairman David Bean said:

“The agency’s failure to engage the Tribe in meaningful consultation is an insult to our rights and a threat to the entire community. We call on community members to stand with us by submitting comments to PSCAA asking for the Agency to deny the construction permit for Tacoma LNG.”

People in support of the project spoke out at the PSCAA hearing to what they see as the need for the project.

Clare Petrich, president of the Port of Tacoma Commission, testified that her family had lived in the area for more than 100 years.

One day, we know that renewable energy will replace fossil fuels and the shipping industry. Unfortunately, that day is not today,” Petrich said. “Our industry is working hard to reach those points. ... In the meantime we face the choice: Wait 30 years for new technology to become available or act now on an interim solution that, while imperfect is a step in the right direction.

“To those who oppose this project I ask, if not this, then what?”

David Mills, senior vice president of policy and energy supply for PSE, said his company had two objectives.

“The first one is to ensure reliable supply of energy to all of our customers,” Mills testified. “The second is to decrease our company’s carbon footprint.”

The Tacoma LNG project is a critical component for both of those objectives, he said, as more of the population shifts from Seattle to Tacoma.

“My company recognizes that climate change concerns are real, and as the SEIS has stated, the Tacoma LNG facility will be a positive agent of change in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our communities,” Mills said.

His walkoff, as was Petrich’s, was greeted with audience outbursts.

“Stop the lies!” one person shouted.

Given the vocal opposition, PSE has turned to promotional materials and advertising, as anyone with a TV, scrolling through social media or receiving local mail can attest.

PSE told The News Tribune on Friday it spent $15,000 on the mailed booklets it sent to residents this summer.

In follow-up questioning Monday, Janet Kim, media representative for PSE, offered additional details on its promotional advertising budget for digital and cable TV.

Early in the project, PSE received feedback that the community hadn’t received enough information about the Tacoma LNG project. In response, our shareholders have paid for education and awareness pieces,” Kim said. “On average, the education and awareness budget for the Tacoma LNG project is around $40,000 a month for local cable television and digital advertising.”

To counter the project, opponents have launched a court challenge and ramped up calls for another supplemental environmental review.

The city’s Human Rights Commission in April sent a letter to Mayor Victoria Woodards and council members requesting a supplemental environmental impact statement review of the LNG plant.

The letter also took aim at PSCAA.

The Commission strongly and respectfully recommends that you request the City to initiate a supplemental review as soon as possible, particularly because PSCAA, having now issued its widely-criticized SEIS in final, may grant PSE a Notice of Construction Permit in the next few weeks,” the letter states.

The Northwest Detention Center was the focus of another letter sent to the mayor and council in April by a collection of faith and human rights groups, of which Zimmerle is a part.

No official document explains how the 1,575 people that can be detained at the facility would be kept safe in the event of an emergency,” the letter states. “It is believed that the emergency response plan for the Detention Center requires people to ‘shelter in place,’ a course of action that would raise serious questions about the safety of those who are detained.”

Update Aug. 29: In a recording of June’s Human Rights Commission meeting, obtained Aug. 28 from the city by The News Tribune, Woodards explained to the commission from the city’s perspective the legal limitations of initiating a supplemental review on the project. Zimmerle told The News Tribune this week that the faith groups also received a message of support from the mayor but that it did not directly address their specific LNG concerns.

As they left the hearing in the early afternoon, Louisa Beal and Pam Beal, both of Radio Tacoma, a low-power FM public access radio station, reflected on what they’d experienced.

Louisa Beal said she was surprised by those she saw talking up the project.

“There were people saying, ‘Oh, it’s going to be good for Tacoma’s air’ without really knowing, or saying or understanding that really, it’s the Earth’s air. And it’s the fracking that’s going on that is really being destructive,” she said.

Pam Beal said the project offered a clear example that residents need to get involved.

“PSE has embedded itself in our local government in our decision making ... they’ve joined local boards,” Pam Beal said, “and a lot of people don’t care about those meetings. So we as citizens need to get more involved with what they might think are boring meetings.”

Zimmerle said one of her colleagues worked to stop the Satsop nuclear power plant, west of Olympia.

“I take that as a testament to the impact of people power,” she said. “I hope that one day we can see this big, ugly tank on the Tacoma Tideflats and know that it’s empty and that this community came together.”