by Will Sweger
Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, along with activists from the Puyallup Tribe, Tacoma Redefine, the Sierra Club, and 350 Seattle came together Tuesday morning to issue a statement in opposition to the construction of a liquid natural gas refinery in Tacoma. In her latest move connecting national issues to local government conduct, Sawant introduced a city council resolution to oppose the facility currently under construction by Puget Sound Energy (PSE).
The proposed resolution calls on Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who sits on the board of directors for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA), to reject PSE’s application for the new facility. PSCAA’s jurisdiction covers King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties and its board includes ten elected officials from the Puget Sound region. The Agency has yet to issue an air quality permit to the new PSE facility.
Newly-minted Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards supports the construction of a new liquid natural gas (LNG) refinery and defeated challenger Jim Merritt who opposed the facility earlier this month. During the election, the debate focused on the merits of LNG as a transitional fuel and whether PSE has been honest in releasing the anticipated environmental impacts.
The facility will refine natural gas, in many cases obtained through the environmentally-damaging practice of fracking, into a liquid form. The plant, slated for completion in 2019, will be capable of producing 250,000 gallons of LNG a day. The produced fuel would go to power cargo ships and the homes of PSE customers. The Port of Tacoma approved the project in 2014.
PSE’s defense of the project has focused on comparing LNG to diesel in use on cargo ships. Victoria Leistman, a Sierra Club Organizer present at the announcement said, “Although fracked gas produces less carbon emissions than coal when burned, the production, processing, storage, transmission, and distribution of fracked gas leaks immense amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more destructive pollutant for our climate than carbon dioxide. When accounting for methane leaks, fracked gas has climate impacts that rival those of coal.”
The completed refinery will feature a 14-story high LNG storage tank. The reservoir would hold approximately 8 million gallons of highly flammable liquid and will be located on the Tacoma fault zone in an area vulnerable to earthquakes, mudslides resulting from volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. The site is also about four miles from the urban center of Tacoma, a community of over 200,000 people.
James Rideout of the Puyallup Tribal Council claimed no consultation had taken place with the tribe whose reservation lies only about three miles from the new facility.
Dakota Case, a Puyallup tribal member, spoke at the meeting saying, “We live in a time when rivers run dry. We live in a time when climate crisis is upon us and we must put a stop to facilities like this and get our dependence away from fossil fuels. We must make a stand for future generations. We must make a stand for the salmon. We must make a stand for the water. A threat to Tacoma is a threat to Seattle, we both live on the Salish Sea.”
In Tuesday’s city council meeting, Sawant highlighted recent environmental successes including the recent defeat of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would have been the largest coal terminal in the United States. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant a permit for the project in 2016, citing the Lummi Tribe’s treaty-protected fishing rights in the area. The Lummi Nation along with the Sierra Club and local activists conducted a robust protest campaign in opposition to the project.
Referring to the construction in Tacoma, Sawant said, “Most counties haven’t taken an official position, but I can tell you that if we don’t actually act and if a movement isn’t built, then it will happen as a matter of course because there’s no pressure on any of these elected officials from working people to stop this, but there’s a lot of pressure from PSE to get this through.”
A March 9, 2016 explosion of a PSE gas line in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood resulted in $3 million in property damages. PSE later settled with the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission by paying a $2.75 million fine.
Sawant explained, “Ultimately if we are to take the science of climate change into account, then we’re not going to be able to rely on profit-driven corporations. That is why, ultimately, I am a socialist because we need to take these oil corporations and corporations like PSE into democratic public ownership because it’s only when we have control over the resources will we be able to decide what to do with them. As long as we as ordinary people don’t have control over it, PSE and corporations like them get to call the shots.”
The city council is set to vote on the proposed resolution next week. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is the last body pending approval of the new facility. A 60-day comment period will open at the end of the month and there is a public hearing slated for March.
Speaking of PSCAA’s duty in considering the environmental impacts of PSE’s project, Leishman said, “This facility is precedent-setting for Washington State’s energy future.”
Will Sweger is a contributor to the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger
Featured image by Will Sweger