Tacoma LNG plant reflects good stewardship

A view of a portion of Puget Sound Energy's proposed 30-acre liquid natural gas plant site on the Tacoma Tideflats.
A view of a portion of Puget Sound Energy's proposed 30-acre liquid natural gas plant site on the Tacoma Tideflats. News Tribune file photo, 2016

Much has been said over the past year about the Port of Tacoma and our decision to enter into a lease with Puget Sound Energy to develop a liquefied natural gas facility.

We, as two of the port’s elected commissioners, would like to make our position clear.

We moved forward with this project after careful consideration, including the future of the shipping industry, environmental benefits and safety of the Tideflats and surrounding community. All presentations and votes were done in accordance with the law and in public.

In 2008 the international treaty concerning ship emissions, known as MARPOL, was amended to include new limitations for ships operating in so-called Emission Control Areas.

One of these areas runs within 200 miles of the coast of the continental United States and Canada, all the way up into Alaska.

This means that ships operating between the Pacific Northwest and Alaska face very strict emission controls for their entire journey.

In preparation for this change, TOTE Maritime made the decision to convert its ships to run on LNG, a less polluting and safer fuel. While there are other ways to comply with the new regulations, Tote believes LNG provides greater environment benefit and is the best option.

TOTE has been recognized as a leader in environmental stewardship within the shipping industry. To support its decision, TOTE needs a place to safely and reliably fuel its ships. It contracted with PSE to provide the new fuel source.

LNG is simply a very cold version of the same natural gas that heats our homes, cooks our food and powers buses and garbage trucks on our streets.

It is chilled to a non-flammable state to allow for smaller storage needs. It emits a fraction of the pollution of the industry standard bunker fuel that currently runs ships around the world.

Switching to LNG means a 90 percent reduction in diesel particulate matter, a known carcinogen and threat to public health. The facility will not affect groundwater, and in the unlikely event of a fuel spill, LNG turns back into a vapor, which is lighter than air and quickly disperses.

The Tacoma facility will be much smaller than most other LNG facilities around the country. It will be used only for ship fueling and for peak shaving to benefit other customers (i.e, providing extra capacity during periods of high demand).

Because there is so much misinformation in the community about this project, we have created a page on our website at www.portoftacoma.com/lng. This site provides primary-sourced information as well as links to other resources.

We take our role of environmental stewardship seriously. The commission recently affirmed our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord goals by signing the “We Are Still In” letter.

In 2008 we partnered with the ports of Seattle and Metro Vancouver to create the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase and clean up contaminated properties in the Tideflats.

The price of being an elected official is that we have to make tough decisions that some people will disagree with. We welcome the opportunity to engage in respectful and thoughtful dialogue, which is one of the reasons we agreed to partner on a sub-area plan for the Tideflats.

Pierce County residents are the citizen owners of the Port of Tacoma, and we are elected to steward these assets on your behalf.

We, and the hundreds of dedicated public servants who work at the port, are here to protect the natural environment, invest in our community and ensure the Tideflats remains an engine for our local and regional economy.

Clare Petrich and Don Johnson are members of the five-member Port of Tacoma Commission. Petrich was first elected in 1995, Johnson in 2007. Their current terms expire in December 2019.