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Grass-roots opposition to Intel permit grows


DEQ reviews air quality permits under public pressure

Can Washington County’s largest employer be prevented from using the two large manufacturing facilities it is constructing — or at least be required to install additional emission control equipment, regardless of the cost?

That’s the goal of Dale Feik, who is helping to lead a grassroots campaign to prevent the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality from issuing the discharge permit Intel needs to operate the two new computer chip plants it is building at its Ronler Acres Campus in Hillsboro.

“I would rather shut them down than allow them to operate as planned,” said Feik, a retired Forest Grove teacher.

Feik is chair of the Clean Air Committee of the Washington County Citizen Action Network (WCCAN), 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.

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 the facilities, called DX1, is nearing completion. Construction has just 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 Intel chips, but neither was designed to meet the EPA standards that took effect shortly after Intel applied for its permit, known as a Title V Air Quality Permit.

The DEQ permit process was thrown into disarray after Intel and DEQ admitted the company had not included fluoride emissions in previous applications, although 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 admission 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.

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

Critics like Feik say 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. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review the EPA’s authority to issue the standards.

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.

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, for example, but 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 over a five-year period. The agreement also created a Portland Neighborhood Advisory Committee to improve communications between ESCO and its neighbors.

Feik said he became concerned about climate change several years ago while serving on the sustainability committee of the United Church of Christ in Forest Grove. A voracious reader, the retired educator has read numerous books about climate change and joined a number of environmental advocacy organizations. After working on several of his church’s recycling drives, Feik decided he wanted to do more and became active in the Washington County Citizen Action Network.

“Changing laws and policies is the way you really get things done,” he explained.

WCCAN is chaired by Linda Peters, a former Washington County Commissioner and former chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners. Other board members include Russ Dondero, an outspoken retired professor of political science at Pacific University; Brian Beinlich, a member of the Save Helvetia Steering Committee; and Brian Wegener, advocacy and communications manager for Tualatin Riverkeepers. 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.

WCCAN’s website currently has a page devoted to the Intel DEQ permit issue. It includes the application itself, previous testimony from opponents, articles on air pollution in Oregon and a link for submitting additional comments.

“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.

The company’s critics agree. More than 50 comments have been submitted on Intel’s permit application so far, most opposing it. Many of them claim Intel is endangering the health of area residents by releasing dangerous levels of toxins in the air around its plants.

But the DEQ has so far disagreed with those views. It has issued every permit Intel has applied for, and has never fined the company for violating clean air standards in Hillsboro.