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The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued the permit for a proposed biofuel production facility.

COURTESY - A rendering shows NEXT Renewable Fuel's proposed biofuel facility at Port Westward., South County Spotlight - News Columbia County commissioners approved permits for controversial biofuel facility proposed at Port Westward. Permits approved for NEXT fuel facilityThe Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has granted an air quality permit for NEXT Renewable Fuels' proposed biofuel production facility at Port Westward.

DEQ issued the permit Tuesday, Aug. 30, more than a year and a half after NEXT submitted its application.

The state air quality permit was one of the final key permits needed for NEXT's planned $2 billion operation near Clatskanie.

The "exhaustive 18-month review" for the DEQ air quality permit "included a host of new and novel requirements that NEXT worked to meet and exceed," a press release from NEXT stated.

The permit allows NEXT to emit more than 1.1 million tons of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, each year.

Despite those allowed emissions, NEXT touts its proposal as part of a burgeoning green energy economy.

NEXT plans to manufacture fuel made from vegetable oil and used cooking oils or animal fat. The fuel functions as a drop-in replacement for standard petroleum-based diesel fuel, NEXT said.

"It's imperative that we transition away from fossil fuels towards a cleaner fuels economy as quickly as possible," NEXT chief executive officer and board chair Chris Efird said in a press release announcing the DEQ approval. "Our project accelerates green job creation and helps Oregon reach its aggressive decarbonization goals."

The environmental protection group Columbia Riverkeeper, which has opposed NEXT's project as the company has sought various permits over the past few years, said DEQ's permit approval "downplays air pollution impacts."

"Our community deserves to be heard, and so far, DEQ is ignoring us, dismissing our concerns, and irresponsibly giving priority to the interests of a huge refinery," Clatskanie farmer Brandon Schilling said in a press release from Columbia Riverkeeper. "Though we are rural, agriculturally based, and far from DEQ's headquarters in Portland, we can see NEXT's overwhelming influence on DEQ's decision from here."

In the first half of 2022, NEXT received two major permit approvals: The Oregon Department of State Lands approved NEXT's plans for environmental remediation to offset the wetlands that would be destroyed by the facility construction, and Columbia County commissioners granted NEXT the local land use permits it sought for the planned development.

NEXT still needs water permits from DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NEXT spokesperson Michael Hinrichs said.

Columbia Riverkeeper has appealed part of Columbia County's permit approval to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.


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