As Oregon’s largest private employer and a major driver of the state’s economy, Intel wields enormous clout in Washington County and Hillsboro. The company employs 17,000 high-wage workers in the metro area, its ambitious expansion plans prop up the local construction industry, and it pays millions upon millions in fees and taxes for roads and other services.
At the same time, the company’s outsize presence means state and local officials must undertake expensive transportation projects to alleviate congestion around Intel’s Ronler Acres campus and also work with Intel to minimize the impact of a new 3,000-space parking garage.
All in all, the relationship between company and community seems to work. But now that Intel is applying for a new state air quality permit as it continues a $3 billion-dollar expansion in Hillsboro, the company’s failure to report its fluoride emissions in a timely manner raises a question of credibility.
According to news reports in the Hillsboro Argus and The Oregonian, Intel has been emitting fluoride for years but only recently reported that to the state Department of Environmental Quality. The company says it told the DEQ in 2012 and maintains the omission was an “inadvertent oversight”
Belated or not, Intel’s admission raises questions about why the information wasn’t reported earlier, whether fluoride is dangerous, and how the company’s emissions will be monitored in the future.
An Intel spokeswoman says the company doesn’t have to report fluoride emissions at its other U.S. plants, but Oregon has a lower threshold for reporting. DEQ says the agency doesn’t have much experience with fluoride and didn’t know to look for it.
Intel hasn’t said how much fluoride was emitted. However, its planned emissions will be up to 6.4 tons per year — enough to be considered a significant emission.
Apart from the fluoride, Intel plans to increase its greenhouse gas emissions and will be installing equipment that reduces those emissions. The anticipated volume means the company had to apply for a more stringent permit and that’s what’s at issue with the new permit.
Intel’s planned emissions of 819,000 tons per year of greenhouse gases are in the range of pulp and paper mills, and its emissions cap is about 700,000 tons more than what is considered a significant greenhouse gas emission federally.
Going forward, it’s unlikely that DEQ would deny a permit, though it can make modifications to it, essentially adding some control standards for Intel to meet. On the heels of two public meetings the past two weeks, the state agency is accepting public comment on the permit until Sept. 25.
Clearly, these issues are complicated. Just as clearly, the company needs to be forthright in its dealings with the state and the local community. Though the state’s regulatory powers may be limited, Intel would do itself a favor by divulging the amount of previous fluoride emissions in Hillsboro.
Doing so would contribute to public understanding of the issues involved and give Intel added credibility as it navigates the permitting process. It’s one thing to put a dollar value on buildings, payroll and property values. Corporate credibility, however, is priceless.