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State received 2,427 comments from public, mostly in opposition to Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery permit

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Dan Serres, conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper, voices concerns with Global's operations at an event Riverkeeper hosted in 2019.The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has approved an air emissions permit for Global Partners LP's transloading operation at Port Westward near Clatskanie.

Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery is owned by Cascade Kelly Holdings, which in turn is owned by Global. The permit applies to CPBR's transloading operations, moving fuel from one mode of transportation to another, such as from train to boat.

DEQ approved the permit on June 30 after receiving 2,427 comments from the public.

The approved permit adds a technical modification to include the transloading of renewable diesel fuel, in addition to the crude oil and ethanol transloading already permitted. In February, Global sought a lease amendment from the Port of Columbia County to allow the company to switch from transporting ethanol to transporting renewable fuel.

The environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper described DEQ's decision as "a stunning slap in the face" to residents concerned about environmental safety and "a narrow-minded mistake that will lead to more toxic air pollution."

The public comments showcase two opposing sides in the ongoing concerns over Port Westward, those who are most concerned with environmental protections, and those who are most concerned with jobs and economic development.

A coalition of environmental protection groups submitted a letter to DEQ calling on the agency to remove crude oil from the permit because Global has publicly said it has no immediate plans to transload crude oil at the facility. Transloading crude oil has appeared less likely since Global's planned purchase of nine storage tanks fell through in May.

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility also wrote in opposition to the permit, writing that the separate permits for aspects of Global's operations "has obscured the public's view of real and potential harms" and that Global "has a long track record of air quality and safety violations."

The Clatskanie City Council, representing the nearest city to CPBR, wrote that the city "views this facility as absolutely critical to the continued and long-term employment of local citizens."

"Keeping businesses, both large and small, is a continual challenge and this site, by modifying its permit, shows the CPBR's commitment to the local economy," Clatskanie City Manager Greg Hinkelman wrote on behalf of the council.

Paul Vogel, interim executive director of Columbia County Economic Team, wrote in support of the permit and cited CPBR's intention to switch from transporting ethanol to transporting renewable fuel.

"This evolution to renewable diesel is in the long-term best interest of the facility as well as Oregon's and the world's climate change goals," Vogel wrote.

CCET representatives attended public hearings on the permit and summarized opposition to the permit as opposition to: trains, oil trains and oil; claims and worries that DEQ does not, or will not, do its job; and speculation around potential future legislation.

"DEQ regulations should not and do not govern on philosophical views and speculation of what 'could be,' but rather solid science and facts," Vogel wrote.

In addition, removing oil from the permit could have negative impacts on state emergency preparedness plans, Vogel argued.

Columbia Riverkeeper, which was among the coalition members who signed on to the letter to DEQ, also submitted a letter signed by 1,250 of the group's supporters.

That letter outlined four specific requests to DEQ: removing crude oil from the permit; including limitations on the amount of each permitted product that can be transported, rather than an overall limit of 1.8 billion gallons of product; prohibiting oil trains with high vapor pressure, which Columbia Riverkeeper said increases the likelihood of a train exploding if it derails; and limiting hydrogen sulfide emissions.

A March 2020 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 they are beginning 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.

Those requests, and others made in public comments, were not adopted in the final permit.

The refinery's ethanol production operations are regulated under a separate air quality permit, which was renewed last fall. In the public comment period for that permit, DEQ received almost 300 written responses.

The Clatskanie facility has not produced ethanol since 2009, years before it was purchased by Global, and the company has maintained that restarting ethanol production isn't in the works.


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