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State reconsidering Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery air emissions permit following petition from environmental groups

PMG FILE PHOTO - Train cars pass through Columbia County towns, headed west toward Clatskanie.The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has agreed to reconsider an air quality permit it approved for the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery earlier this year.

The environmental advocacy groups Columbia Riverkeeper, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Neighbors for Clean Air formally petitioned DEQ to reassess the permit in August. Last month, DEQ agreed to take another look.

DEQ had received thousands of comments from the public before approving the permit in June.

The permit regulates the air contaminant discharge from Columbia Pacific's transloading operations, meaning the operations moving product from one mode of transportation to another.

The approved permit included a modification to allow Cascade Kelly Holdings LLC, owned by Global Partners LP, to transport renewable diesel in addition to crude oil and ethanol. The Clatskanie bio-refinery also includes ethanol production facilities, which are regulated under separate permits, though the facility has not produced ethanol for more than a decade.

Catie Kerns, a spokesperson for Global, said that Columbia Pacific will begin moving renewable diesel this fall.

On Sept. 16, DEQ Director Richard Whitman agreed to reconsider the permit on one of two arguments made by the petitioners. While the reconsideration is ongoing, the permit remains in effect.

First, the groups argued that the permit should be re-evaluated because it included an operating scenario that would not be permitted. Global was previously in talks with Portland General Electric, a neighbor in Clatskanie, to purchase the Beaver Tank Farm. The sale fell through, however, so Global did not assume ownership of the tanks.

The environmental groups wrote that because the tanks aren't owned or operated by Columbia Pacific, they couldn't be included as a source in any of the operating scenarios allowed in the bio-refinery's permit.

In response to public comments prior to approving the permit, DEQ had said that "DEQ regulations still allow the proposed operational scenario," but the petitioners said the agency had not cited any specific regulation that would allow it.

DEQ agreed to reconsider the permit on those grounds.

"It is unfortunate but not surprising that environmental opponents would take this tact. It is also counter to their objectives. Reusing and refurbishing existing infrastructure, such as the PGE tanks, is something we should all support and encourage," Kerns said.

The environmental petitioners made a second argument, which DEQ rejected.

A March executive order from Gov. Kate Brown directed state agencies to make plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035. In response to calls for DEQ to reflect that executive order in Global's permits, the agency wrote that it would begin a public process to plan implementation of the directive in the future.

"However, there is nothing specific in the (executive order) to suggest DEQ limit or adjust, at this time, the process for permitting or renewing permits in the manner these comments suggest," the agency wrote in response to the public comments before approving the permit.

In response to the governor's order, DEQ submitted implementation plans for different facets of its work, including capping and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That plan set out a three-phase approach to developing programs and policies to reduce emissions, which would extend through 2021.

In the petition, attorneys for the environmental organizations argued that while they understand DEQ is still developing ways to address specific directives from the executive order, the agency's response to the Columbia Pacific permit process ignored the executive order's general directive "to exercise any and all authority and discretion vested in them by law" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're glad DEQ has decided to review what is an obvious error in the final permit, however we remain deeply disappointed that the agency insists on leaving crude oil in Global Partner's permit," said Erin Saylor, a staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. "The wildfires of the past few weeks have made it abundantly clear that climate change is real — pursuant to Executive Order 20-04, DEQ should be using every available authority it has to reduce the potential for greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The agency should start by removing crude oil from Global's air permit instead of giving the company an open-ended license to handle fossil fuels under the guise of a bio-refinery."

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