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Activists See Last Chance To Halt Tacoma LNG Project

Will James
Puyallup Tribal Council Member Annette Bryan, center, speaks at an informational meeting hosted by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency on Dec. 1, 2017

Puget Sound Energy is close to getting all the official okays it needs build a liquefied natural gas plant at the Port of Tacoma.

Environmental activists and neighbors have fought for about two years to halt the project. They say their last real chance lies with a local clean-air permitting process. 

"This is it," said Annette Bryan, a Puyallup Tribal Council member who is opposed to the plant. "This is the last permit that this facility needs."

Bryan was one of dozens of activists, neighbors, and members of the Puyallup Tribe who appeared at an informational meeting Friday armed with questions for representatives of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Officials with the regional clean-air regulator hosted the meeting as they weigh a permit application by Puget Sound Energy.

The agency is charged with analyzing projected emissions associated with the plant and ensuring the project complies with the federal and state clean-air regulations. It is likely to hold a public hearing in late January or early February, executive director Craig Kenworthy said.

"My hope for the outcome of this process is that the agencies will really listen to the public," said Bryan, who once worked as an air-quality inspector for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

"We've been fighting this for a couple of years now," she said. "And our statements are falling on deaf ears."

Puget Sound Energy has already received permits from the City of Tacoma and a number of federal and state agencies. 

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's permitting process is the last regulatory hurdle requiring public hearings that the utility needs to clear, a company spokesman said.

"We are very supportive of public processes like this for people to express their opinions," Puget Sound Energy spokesman Grant Ringel said outside the informational meeting Friday. 

Puget Sound Energy officials say the plant would provide natural gas to local utility customers and fuel for ships traveling between Washington and Alaska.

They say the liquefied natural gas would replace the dirtier bunker fuel currently used by ships.

"This is a good project for the environment and the economy," Ringel said.

Activists object to the prospect of having a major fossil fuel facility located in Tacoma. Neighbors have also expressed concerns about safety. 

James Rideout, a Puyallup Tribal Council member who lives near the project site, feared the plant would threaten years of environmental progress at the Port of Tacoma.

"They so graciously have done a great job of cleaning up the Port of Tacoma," Rideout said. "Why would they even consider the fact of putting something like this back onto our Port of Tacoma?" 

Will James reports on ideology, covering how information spreads, how beliefs form, and how those beliefs interact with the real world.