Intel is applying for a new state air quality permit as it continues a $3 billion-dollar expansion in Hillsboro. At a pair of public meetings the past two weeks, about 40 residents showed up. Many pushed for more regulation of Intel’s emissions and others asked questions of Department of Environmental Quality employees.
It’s a complicated issue generating a range of concerns, here’s a breakdown and some common questions:
Intel has been emitting fluoride for years, the company concedes, but only recently reported that to the DEQ. The fluoride should have acknowledged in previous air quality permits the DEQ issued Intel. The company, in a statement to The Oregonian and then at a public hearing this week, said the omission was an “inadvertent oversight.” The company says it told the DEQ in 2012.
Why did Intel not include fluoride in its emissions list?
The company and the DEQ have both offered answers. Ultimately, the company failed to report its emissions. At a public hearing this week, spokeswoman Jill Eiland told residents the company doesn’t have to report fluoride emissions at any of its other U.S. operations — Oregon has a lower threshold for fluoride emission reporting, she said. Eiland said the company realized it should report the emission when applying for its new DEQ permit (it’s a more intensive application than previous ones). DEQ’s George Davis said the agency is inexperienced with fluoride emissions and didn’t know to look for it.
How much fluoride was emitted?
Intel did not answer that question when asked by The Oregonian and hasn’t since. Eiland said an internal analysis suggests the company was emitting less than would be considered significant in Oregon. The company’s planned emissions, however, will be up to 6.4 tons per year. That will be considered a significant emission.
Is it dangerous?
Davis said, to the best of his knowledge, no. He added community concern about unregulated fluoride is valid, though, and the agency is trying to gather more information on those previous emissions.
Moving on from the fluoride. Intel has been in Washington County for decades. Why is it now getting a new air quality permit?
The company is increasing its greenhouse gas emissions and others as part of its $3-billion expansion in Hillsboro. The greenhouse gases are the trigger pollutants in this case. In 2011, greenhouses gases became a regulated pollutant that required a new permit in Oregon. Because of Intel’s high greenhouse emissions, the company had to apply for a more stringent permit, called a Title V. About 120 companies in Oregon have that permit and are considered major producers of pollutants.
So, will Intel be regulated more closely now that its emissions are increasing?
Yes and no.
Yes: The company says it will be increasing its emission controls, which means installing equipment that reduces emissions – companies produce more chemicals than they emit. For the DEQ’s part, the agency is still reliant on the company to report its own emissions on an annual basis. Every two years, the agency also does a planned on-site inspection.
No: A concern some residents have raised is that Intel is a federal major source, but it won’t be subject to Significant Deterioration Prevention program that comes with that label. That’s true …
Intel is a federal major source, so why is it not part of the accompanying emissions control program?
It comes down to a matter of a couple weeks. Intel’s D1X plans got the DEQ okay on Dec. 20, 2010, Davis said. On Jan. 1, 2011, greenhouse gases became a regulated pollutant and Intel a federal major source. DEQ officials said because Intel’s expansion was approved before the company became a federal major source, the company isn’t required to meet Prevention of Significant Deterioration standards. Many residents raised objections to this, and the company has said it will be improving its controls.
How big are Intel’s emissions?
Based on the company’s planned emissions, Intel is a large greenhouse gas emitter. Its 819,000 tons-per-year limit ranks it close to pulp and paper mill emissions, as well as some power plants. It’s emissions cap is about 700,000 tons more than what is considered a significant greenhouse gas emission federally. Davis said the rest of Intel’s emissions are fairly par-for-course and not particularly high. (The EPA has a really helpful map where you can look specifically at greenhouse gas emissions by state, county and company).
So can the DEQ deny the permit?
Simply put, no. And that’s all based on the power the state gives DEQ. The agency can make modifications to the permit, basically adding some control standards for Intel to meet, but that’s about it. The only way for Intel to be denied the permit is if residents appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA gives the final okay on the permit, and it has 45 days to so. Once the agency approves it, residents have 60 days to submit an appeal. Davis said that is a highly technical process.
How does the DEQ monitor emissions?
The agency doesn’t directly monitor Intel’s emissions, nor does it do that for any other site. The company hires a third-party company that reports annual emission amounts to the DEQ. The DEQ does have a hazardous air pollutants monitor at Hare Field in Hillsboro that is targeted at measuring general air quality, not emissions specific to Intel. Several residents have also raised concerns about the location of the monitor. Air toxics specialist Sarah Armitage said the location was chosen to monitor general air quality in a populous area, not to capture Intel’s immediate air quality.
The DEQ will accept public comments on Intel’s permit until 5 p.m., Sept. 25.