On Thursday evening, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials heard nearly three hours of questions and comments from the public about Intel’s air quality and permitting violations as well as the $143,000 fine levied against the Hillsboro semiconductor manufacturer.

A mutual agreement was signed April 23 between the DEQ and Intel addressing the company’s failure to report fluoride emissions since 2004; failure to obtain a permit to emit fluorides; and for beginning construction of the D1X manufacturing facility at Intel’s Ronler Acres site without proper approval.

A crowd of about 60 people turned out at the Hillsboro Civic Center auditorium to ask questions clarifying the mutual agreement and what Intel is doing to monitor emissions.

The biggest concerns that surfaced regarded the amount of the fine, how emissions testing is being done, and the corrective actions Intel is taking to obtain the proper permits.

“The fine, it’s a joke. It’s morally obscene,” said Russ Dondero, a member of Washington County Citizen Action Network (WCCAN) and Neighbors for Clean Air.

“We understand it looks like a pretty small fine,” said George Davis, air quality permit writer for DEQ.

Davis explained that the DEQ levies fines across the board based on a set of rules and precedents.

“DEQ’s goal is compliance,” Davis said, adding that Intel has been complying with the corrective actions set forth in the agreement.

In lieu of paying the fine outright to DEQ — which Davis said would go to the state’s general fund — Intel instead has opted to pay part of the fine for what DEQ terms a “supplemental environmental project”: Intel will write a check to the Hillsboro School District to help upgrade the district’s bus fleet with cleaner-running buses.

“We believe it’s a good project and has definite advantages,” said David Munro, DEQ’s air quality manager for the Northwest region.

That news was met with some grumbling from audience members, however.

“I understand there is an apparent disconnect between Intel and school buses,” Davis said. “We take (environmental) projects where we can get them.”

Asked about what Intel is doing to test fluorides emissions now, Davis said the company is required to test emissions from its scrubbers — the first round is currently underway — and post quarterly fluoride emissions on a public Web page,

Intel has hired Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to do the testing, and a DEQ coordinator has reviewed the test plans and visited during the testing, Davis said. ERM will test the exhaust from 25 scrubbers, for a minimum of three hours each.

“This is intended to give us the most accurate information possible,” he said.

There will be more rounds of testing by the end of 2014 and again by the end of 2015.

Intel is also in the process of submitting an application for the appropriate permit for construction of the D1X plant. The permit Intel obtained in 2010 was in adequate, because DEQ was not aware the company was emitting fluorides. Until the construction permit is issued, Davis said, fluoride emissions may not exceed 3.4 tons per year, and greenhouse gas emissions may not exceed 301,000 tons per year — the same limits Intel would have seen in its existing permit from 2007 (without the D1X facility).

“This looks like it’s a matter of trust,” said one woman, noting that two DEQ air quality employees (Davis and Munro) are “outmanned by a 3,000 pound gorilla.”

Dondero applauded DEQ for the process it has taken to bring Intel into compliance with air quality permits and rules.

“Intel has had to respond, with the pressure of public opinion and the pressure of the media,” he said.

Linda Peters, chairwoman of WCCAN and an NCA member, spoke about a “second track that will demonstrate Intel is acting with integrity” in control and monitoring of its emissions.

She pointed out that Intel signed a “good neighbor agreement” May 29 with a coalition of Neighbors for Clean Air and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. (See sidebar for more details on this agreement.)

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