Tuesday, May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021

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The fight over Tacoma’s liquified-natural gas plant continues. Will permits be upheld?

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TACOMA — Attorneys made opening statements Monday in front of the Pollution Control Hearings Board about whether the board should overturn permits for the liquefied natural gas facility on the Tacoma Tideflats.

Environmental organizations and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians appealed to try to invalidate permits the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued for the Puget Sound Energy facility. They argue the agency underestimated the effects of the project on the climate and that changes to the design of the facility require additional review of health and safety impacts.

If the board agrees, the Clean Air Agency would need to redo its environmental analysis and permit process.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, told the board the agency’s Environmental Impact Statement failed to meet its goal and asked the board to “send it back to the agency for another try.”

Hasselman went on to say: “We are challenging the bottom line in the (Environmental Impact Statement) that this project would mean a net improvement in greenhouse gas emissions … When we’re dealing with methane, the stakes are higher because this is a very dangerous pollutant.”

Puget Sound Energy’s attorney did not give an opening statement Monday, reserving that time for later in the hearing.

A PSE statement about the facility in 2019 said in part: “Multiple studies required for federal, state, and local permits have found the project benefits the climate, improves local air quality, and reduces the chance of oil spills in Puget Sound – all while helping ensure local families and businesses have safe and dependable energy.”

Attorney Jennifer Dold, representing the Clean Air Agency, argued that the board should uphold the agency’s decisions and deny the appeal.

The appellants, she said in her opening statement, “are asking you to decide this case on emotions.”

While “the sentiment behind the appellants’ focus on climate change is laudable,” she told the Board: “… We both must make decisions based on legal requirements and not emotional pleas.”

She argued that “all the requirements of SEPA (the State Environmental Policy Act) were met in this case” and that “under the rule of reason the appellants don’t come close to meeting their burden of proof.”

They’re going to ask the Board to overturn the EIS, she said, on the “flimsy house of cards that they’ve built.”

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson submitted an amicus brief in the matter in January that argued there were errors in the Clean Air Agency’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

“Because of these errors, the bottom-line greenhouse gas calculation erroneously informed decision-makers that the Project would result in a slight improvement in greenhouse gas emissions, where an accurate analysis would have revealed something different,” the brief said. “SEPA demands more.”

In addition to the Tribe and Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma, the appeal was brought by EarthJustice, Washington Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and Stand.Earth.

The hearing is expected to last two weeks. The Board generally takes about two or three months to issue a decision.

Attorney Geoff Bridgman, representing the Tribe, told the board Monday: “Global warming is an existential crisis for everyone” and that the Tribe is “particularly concerned about this and sees it as a threat, frankly, to its existence.”

The appellants have also asked the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to postpone approval for operations at the facility, which they expect to start next month. That decision is pending.

“ACT argues that given outstanding safety risks of the facility, material lack of disclosure by PSE, and inadequate environmental review for the facility, the public interest would benefit from a short delay in the effective date of the contract to allow for resolution of these concerns,” they wrote the commission. “ACT further requests that the UTC conduct additional proceedings to determine whether delaying the effective date of the contract would cause any harm to Puget Sound Energy.”

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