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Intel permit faces opposition

For months, regional government leaders and business boosters have been cheering the construction of the two large manufacturing facilities now under construction at Intel’s Ronler Acres Campus in Hillsboro.

Now, however, there’s a growing push to slow the project down and require Oregon’s largest employer to install additional emission control equipment, regardless of the cost.

“I would rather shut them down than allow them to operate as planned,” said Dale Feik, a retired teacher helping lead a grassroots campaign to prevent the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality from issuing the discharge permit Intel needs to operate.

Feik is chairman of the Clean Air Committee of the Washington County Citizen Action Network (WCCAN), a non-profit coalition of environmental, social justice and economic equality advocacy organizations. He has used that position to help rally public opposition to the permit being issued, arguing that Intel actually needs to obtain a much stricter one from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

WCCAN is chaired by Linda Peters, a former Washington County Commissioner and former chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.

To press her case, on Oct. 22 Peters presented a letter detailing her concerns about Intel to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

In her letter, Peters explained that while serving on the Washington County Board of Commissioners in the 1990s, she approved using Oregon’s new Strategic Investment Program to encourage Intel’s expansion into the Sunset Corridor, believing Intel’s “good neighbor” promise. 

“We’ve come to believe strongly that the regulatory climate for high-tech industrial air emissions must change from the current ‘honor system’ — characterized by generic estimates and infrequent, unchecked self-reports — to one of real accountability, transparency and effective enforcement to keep air safe for surrounding communities,” Peters wrote. “We hope your office will help us think through some of those implications.”

Peters said the planning for the Hillsboro community revolved around creating a healthy, livable place with pedestrian walkways, parks, transit and easy access to workplaces, shops and services as well as the nearby countryside.

“Much of that early vision has come to pass, but now it is literally clouded,” Peters continued. “Industrial employers located near residential and public spaces must keep their air emissions sufficiently free of toxins and hazardous pollutants to protect humans, pets, nearby farms, wildlife, water quality, and — ironically enough — the existing economy. Who wants to live, work or shop where the air is toxic? We’re looking for some combination of sticks and carrots which can induce these corporations to truly ‘clean up their act’ and be the good neighbors they advertise themselves to be.”

Other critics are circulating a petition calling on Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and area legislators to increase DEQ’s oversight of Intel’s emissions.

One of Intel’s new facilities, called DX1, is nearing completion. Construction recently started on the other one, DX2. Both cost approximately $3 billion to build. They are expected to house thousands of new employees working on the next generation of computer chips. But neither plant was designed to meet EPA standards that took effect shortly after Intel applied for its Title V Air Quality Permit.

To date, DEQ has issued every permit Intel has applied for, and has never fined the company for violating clean air standards in Hillsboro. But the DEQ permit process was thrown into disarray after Intel and DEQ admitted recently the company had not included fluoride emissions in previous applications, even though they were required to do so by state environmental regulations. Intel officials have said the omission was an unintentional oversight caused by the state having lower fluoride emission standards than the rest of the country.

DEQ agrees the omission was unintentional, but is now reviewing the validity of the previous permits and the current applications.

“DEQ received a large number of comments and questions, which we are taking seriously. Because of the comments and questions, DEQ believes it is appropriate to review both the draft Title V permit as well as the approval granted in 2010 for Intel’s D1X expansion,” explained DEQ environmental engineer George Davis.

Intel officials said the company is cooperating with the process.

“We are currently reviewing the public comments surrounding the permit. We are working internally and with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that the comments are addressed in our plan moving forward,” said Intel spokeswoman Chelsea Hossaini.

Davis said it is not unusual for DEQ to conduct such reviews after receiving public comments. It is unclear how long the reviews will take, however.

On Tuesday, Neighbors for Clean Air, a Portland-based advocacy organization, filed notice that it intends to sue over the omission. It is represented by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, based at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.

“DEQ’s review has barely begun and at this point there are more questions than answers. DEQ will continue its review over the coming weeks until we have answers and can determine a path to move forward on,” said Davis.

Critics believe Intel should have applied for a tougher EPA permit requiring it to meet newly adopted “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” standards, however — even if the company might have to spend more money on the DX1 and DX2 facilities to comply with it.

“Greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, which is bad for the entire world,” said Feik.

The new standards took effect shortly after Intel submitted its most recent permit application. If Intel is required to reapply for either permit, it might need to meet tough new federal regulations intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing facilities.

Intel is the largest private employer in Oregon with approximately 17,000 workers at campuses in Aloha and Hillsboro. The company is widely credited with making Washington County the “economic engine” of the state.

But Intel’s critics say the pollution issue is clouding — literally — Intel’s shiny image of success.

“Intel has a reputation of being clean because the workers wear those clean suits, but that’s to keep their chips clean. Intel is actually a very dirty company,” said Feik.




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  • 23 Apr 2014

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