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Activists target Intel's permit

Should the DEQ force the chip giant to shut down emissions?


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

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

“I would rather shut them down than allow them to operate as planned,” says Dale Feik, a retired teacher helping to 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, a nonprofit 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 led by Linda Peters, a former Washington County commissioner and former chairwoman of the board of commissioners. Participating groups include the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Fair Boosters, Fans of Fanno Creek and Neighbors for Smart Growth in Cedar Mill.

To press her case, on Oct. 22 Peters presented a letter detailing her concerns about Intel to Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

In her letter, Peters explained that while serving on the Washington County board 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 — something she no longer believes. 

“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,” Peters wrote. “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 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 new facility, known as DX2. Each 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 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,” says DEQ environmental engineer George Davis.

Intel officials say 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,” says Intel spokeswoman Chelsea Hossaini.

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

“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,” Davis says.

Then last week, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed notice that it intends to take legal action because of the omission. The center, based at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, was joined by Neighbors for Clean Air, a Portland advocacy organization.

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,” Feik says.

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.

A voice in the process

Conflicts between manufacturing plants and area residents are not unusual. Neighbors complained about emissions from two metal casting facilities operated by ESCO in Northwest Portland for many years. ESCO and community organizations finally signed a “good neighbor agreement” in 2011. Under its terms, ESCO agreed to reduce pollution by an estimated 5 to 20 percent during a five-year period. The agreement also created a Portland Neighborhood Advisory Committee to improve communication between ESCO and its neighbors.

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,” Feik says.

Similar comments can be found on WCCAN’s website. It has a page devoted to the Intel permit with links to public comments concerning the permit. Many are inflammatory, accusing the company of callously polluting the air.

DEQ has so far disagreed, however. It has never fined Intel for violating clean air standards in Hillsboro.

Intel official say multiple goals need to be met through the permit process. According to Hossaini, they include greater transparency and ensuring the community has a voice in the process. Also, Hossaini says, “Intel achieves the operational flexibility and predictability we need to sustain our business in Oregon.”