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Air quality permit for Intel expansion nears approval

Intel is likely to win approval for the state air quality permit it is seeking for its expansion in Hillsboro despite mostly negative reactions at a public hearing earlier this month.

Officials at the Department of Environmental Quality say they will decide whether to modify conditions for the proposed permit, one of two that the semiconductor manufacturer will need for planned expansions at its plants in Aloha and Hillsboro.

DEQ’s George Davis, the lead permit writer, says the agency is not required to set a level of net-zero emissions.

Several of the 21 people who testified at the 90-minute hearing at the Hillsboro Civic Center Nov. 5 expressed frustration.

“The impression was that we could come in and change something,” said Jim Conroy of Hillsboro. “I consider Intel an occupier of my community.”

“Nobody asked if we want chemicals put in the air for our inhalation,” said Victoria Lowe, a Forest Grove city councilor.

The proposed permit would let Intel increase its emissions of oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide — mostly discharged when natural-gas boilers are fired up — and release small particulates and greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide. The latter two pollutants fell under state and federal regulation in 2011, after Intel’s current permit was issued.

Except for particulates — fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter — these are colorless and odorless gases.

“While these emissions may not be blatant in sight or smell — therefore, under the radar — they are nonetheless toxic and a great concern to all of us, whether we are currently healthy or to those of us with respiratory illnesses,” says Bob Clifford of Hillsboro.

Washington County and Hillsboro recently approved ordinances to curb or ban emissions of small particulates, known as PM-2.5, that are generated by burning wood or other materials. DEQ officials say residential burning accounts for about 40 percent of such emissions, compared with 2 percent by all industrial sources.

Virtually all those who testified spoke generally about the permit but did not specify changes in its proposed limits on emissions.

“Many times health issues do not surface until many years have gone by,” said Dale Feik of Forest Grove, who also has raised concerns about the chemicals Intel stores on-site at the manufacturing plants. “It is important that we make our concerns very clear to DEQ.”

The proposed permit limits the number of emergency engines that Intel can test at one time — Intel has 61 such engines at the plants — and also limits testing hours and timing.

The current proceeding is focused on an air contaminant discharge permit that Intel will have to obtain for the construction phase of its expansion. Once DEQ issues that permit, the agency will start another official proceeding for Intel’s operating permit, which would be issued by 2018.

DEQ has a separate proceeding for a new operating permit for Intel’s current operations.

Representatives of Intel, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., were present but chose not to testify.

Not all the comments during the hearing were negative.

“Having Intel in Hillsboro is very positive for our small businesses and the ecosystem of emerging entrepreneurs,” says Deanna Palm, president of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce. “That is a significant multiplier effect that demonstrates the important role Intel plays in the vitality of our economic development efforts.”

Kathryn VanNatta lives in Hillsboro and is governmental and regulatory affairs representative for the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, though she was not testifying on its behalf.

She says as far as she can tell, Intel’s application complies with state and federal laws and administrative rules regulating air pollution.

“It is impossible, really, not to do that,” says VanNatta, who was an administrator for state legislative committees in 1991 and 1993. “It is a very complicated process and is demanding of both sides.”

Russ Dondero is a participant in an advisory committee negotiating a good-neighbor agreement with Intel. The committee stems from a legal settlement with Neighbors for Clean Air and the Northwest Environmental Defense Council over fluoride emissions by Intel.

Under the pending agreement, Intel would agree to openness in reporting its emissions and a third-party assessment of them, and measurement of the public health risk as developed by an independent consultant.

“From what I have seen, the data convince me that we are well below the threshold” of a “clear and present danger” to human health, said Dondero, a retired professor of political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

However, Dondero adds, the independent consultant “will tell you that the uncertainty level in any of these assessments is very high.”

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