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Clean Air Agency: Drax started construction prematurely at Longview port

UK company could face fines

By Caleb Barber, The Daily News
Published: March 21, 2024, 7:50am

LONGVIEW — The Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency is alleging a company proposing a wood-pellet factory at the Port of Longview has started construction without having an air discharge permit — a violation of agency rules.

The agency sent UK-based energy company Drax a written notice March 13 after a Clean Air Agency engineer responsible for overseeing the project took a tour of the facility.

Danny Phipps, a quality engineer, said in a notice submitted to the company that an inflatable wood pellet storage dome had been erected on the property before the company’s air discharge permit was complete.

While the storage dome is not in use, Phipps said it was constructed prior to the issuance of the permit and wasn’t included in the company’s original permit application.

The Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency is the regulatory body that enforces air-quality standards at industrial sites. Before any building can begin, the agency requires the applicant to have an air discharge permit outlining the maximum emissions the construction would produce.

Depending on the severity of the violation, Drax may be issued a fine, required to submit a new air discharge permit or both.

In a statement, a representative from Drax said the company paused construction on a majority of the work the plant on March 12 after learning that construction of support structures is not allowed while its permit is pending.

Communications Manager Grant Stoker said the company is in the process of clarifying what types of work can proceed on the site.

The agency will decide next steps.

“We’ll look at how long they’ve been building, how many days they may have been in violation, whether they were willful and knowing and their response to how they are fixing the violation,” said Clean Air Agency Director Uri Papish.

Papish said the agency’s enforcement policy is to prevent companies from benefiting economically from violating agency rules, so if they find evidence that building this structure now reasonably benefitted the company economically, Papish said the violation may be more serious.

Wayne Kooy, Drax’s North America director of environment, said he believed the company was in compliance with agency rules, as Drax had not yet constructed the emission control technology.

Phipps encouraged the company to provide air discharge information about the storage dome within 30 days. Drax has yet to respond to the violation.