Fluoride Action Network

Intel’s air quality: Officials may relax environmental regulations for chipmaker

Source: The Oregonian | January 6th, 2015 | By Luke Hammill
Location: United States, Oregon
Industry type: Electronics Industry

The state Environmental Quality Commission will meet tomorrow – Wednesday, Jan. 7 – to discuss rule changes that could allow Intel to avoid regulation under a strict federal environmental program at its multibillion-dollar D1X facility under construction in Hillsboro.

Intel is already doing so under a temporary rule adopted by the EQC last year, proposed by the Department of Environmental Quality after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court held that polluters cannot be regulated by the federal Title V and Prevention of Significant Deterioration programs because of greenhouse gases alone.

Intel falls into that category – its greenhouse gas emissions subjected the company to the two programs under the Environmental Protection Agency’s old rules (and the DEQ’s current ones), but its other emissions are below federal levels.

Intel’s air-quality permits for D1X were thrown into limbo in the wake of news in 2013 that the chipmaker failed to disclose fluoride emissions at its Washington County factories. The DEQ found that Intel should have disclosed the emissions in 2004 and gotten a stricter permit before beginning construction of D1X. But the state agency allowed work to continue and fined the tech giant $143,000 last year.

The DEQ ruled that Intel now must get a new construction permit, accounting for the fluoride emissions in its application. The company also applied in 2013 for a federal Title V permit, which “most large sources…of air pollution” are required to obtain, according to the EPA. But that process was put on hold after news of the fluoride emissions surfaced.

DEQ permit writer George Davis said officials still are deciding whether to recommend that the temporary rule, which benefits Intel, be made permanent or to propose that Oregon keep its current rules.

“I have no way to tell you whether it will or won’t be made permanent,” Davis said Tuesday. The final decision will be made in April, he added.

The Supreme Court ruling only applied to the EPA and does not require the DEQ to change its stricter rules. The department could still require the chip giant to seek a Title V permit and undergo the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program, as Oregon statute currently mandates, if it wanted.

In a letter to the DEQ last year, Intel attorney Thomas R. Wood asked the agency to adopt the temporary rule, saying that the DEQ’s current rules were put in place to reflect federal law, which has been changed by the high court ruling.

In a previous letter, sent in 2013, to the DEQ, Wood wrote that Intel was willing to be a part of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program.

Prevention of Significant Deterioration requires polluters to install the “Best Available Control Technology” and conduct an air quality analysis, according to the EPA. Intel has already agreed, after settling with environmental watchdogs, to perform an air-quality risk assessment and publicly release monitoring data taken at its factories. The company continues to negotiate a “good neighbor agreement” with the watchdog groups.

If Intel doesn’t have to get a Title V permit, Davis said last year, it will have to renew its current Air Contaminant Discharge Permit, which is less complex than Title V but holds the company to a similar standard.

The EQC meeting begins Wednesday at 9 a.m. at DEQ Headquarters (811 S.W. Sixth Ave, 10th Floor, Portland) and will cover a range of other issues. The update on DEQ’s air-quality rules will take place at 1 p.m. The commission will accept public comment Thursday at 9 a.m.