Intel will pay $143,000 – one of the largest air-quality penalties in Oregon history – for violating environmental laws by failing to disclose fluoride emissions at its Washington County computer-chip factories.
The company’s deal with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality outlines additional steps Intel must take to correct its lapse, first reported last fall. But it doesn’t stop production or shut down construction, and it opens to door for the company to win air-quality permits for a new, multibillion-dollar factory called D1X.
“We’re prepared to pay the fine and implement the corrective actions outlined” in the agreement, Intel Oregon spokeswoman Chelsea Hossaini said Thursday afternoon.
Intel still needs a separate agreement with Neighbors for Clean Air, an environmental watchdog that had threatened to sue the company over the fluoride failure. And it’s pursuing a “Good Neighbor Agreement” with that organization and nearby residents that would implement additional air-quality monitoring around Intel’s Ronler Acres manufacturing and research campus in Hillsboro.
Neighbors for Clean Air attorney John Krallman said he thinks Thursday’s agreement is an important acknowledgement of not only Intel’s flub, but also DEQ’s mistake. Initially, DEQ planned to move forward with an air-quality permit for Intel despite the fluoride admission.
“DEQ has realized the mistake they made in rushing forward,” Krallman said. “What they’re asking of Intel is fair.”
The fluoride issue has been a major public embarrassment to Intel in Oregon, but the fine will have negligible impact for a company that reported profits of $9.6 billion in 2013.
Intel acknowledged that it had failed to report fluoride emissions at its Oregon factories, a disclosure that is required under the state’s environmental laws. State regulators and the company said fluoride emissions were within safe levels, but the lapse threw Intel’s permitting status into confusion.
After at least seven months of talks, Thursday’s agreement outlines several steps – in addition to the penalty – that Intel will have to take. These include:
• Submitting a new permit application by the end of the year;
• Disclosing fluoride emissions on a public website;
• Testing and measuring emissions to support its permit application.
The DEQ said it will take at least two years to complete Intel’s permitting process, a period that includes time for public review and comment. The state will hold a public meeting sometime in May to discuss Thursday’s agreement and what happens next.
DEQ permit writer George Davis said Intel will be paying a “relatively high fine,” particularly for an air-quality violation. In the fall, the agency initially said Intel’s omission was likely not a violation.
But Davis said DEQ reviewed the fluoride issue and realized there were three violations: the company did not disclose its fluoride emissions; it did not obtain a permit for those emissions; and it did not obtain the correct approval to begin construction on D1X.
“We concluded I was wrong about saying there was no violation,” Davis said.
Neighbors had mixed reactions to the deal, with some saying they were glad to see Intel agree to a fine and more monitoring, but lamenting that the agreement doesn’t establish stricter limits or oversight.
Anne Ferguson, who can see Intel’s Ronler Acres factories from her home at Orenco Station, said she’s excited there’s an agreement but that she believes the overall level of air quality is too low.
“I don’t think it’s a big enough fine, but I don’t want to get vindictive,” Ferguson said. “I want to focus on the doughnut, and not the hole.”
John Williams, who lives a little more than two miles east of Ronler Acres, said the agreement fails to spell out how DEQ settled on the size of Intel’s penalty, and doesn’t make clear how greenhouse gasses and other pollutants will be monitored.
Intel provides a huge economic boost for Oregon, Williams said, but the state needs to do a better job enforcing its environmental rules and the company needs to be more vigilant about its impact on the community.
“I think Intel could do more,” he said. “I think they may be coming to the realization that they’re not a power unto themselves.”
Note: This article has been updated with additional comment from DEQ and Intel’s neighbors.