Intel will have to obtain a permit for construction already underway at its multibillion-dollar D1X factory in Hillsboro. That was perhaps the most confusing takeaway from DEQ’s announcement Thursday that Intel will pay $143,000 for failing to disclose its fluoride emissions.
Since last fall, when it first surfaced that Intel had been emitting fluoride without the required permit, questions have lingered about what the error could mean for the company’s construction in Hillsboro.
Here’s what we know after Thursday’s agreement:
1. Intel will not halt construction.
Intel’s fluoride emissions mean the company needed a more rigorous permit instead of a mere letter of approval to begin construction at D1X. Environmental watchdogs have said that technically, until Intel gets that permit, construction should halt.
But all parties have long acknowledged that’s unlikely and nobody has pushed the issue. On Thursday, DEQ permit writer George Davis said the company won’t face any construction delay. Davis said Intel’s fines, among DEQ’s largest air quality penalties ever issued, are something of a stand-in for stopping construction. The financial ramifications of stopping construction, though, would have had far larger implications for the chipmaker than the DEQ-issued fine.
2. The permitting will take a while.
Now that the company has to go back and get a construction permit, it will also have to wait on a Title 5 air quality permit it was already seeking. Which means more public hearings and a lot more waiting. The most likely time frame is about two years, Davis said.
3. Intel might be subject to an environmentally rigorous federal program.
This point is more complicated and less definite than the others. Basically, Intel got the okay to start construction at D1X just before Environmental Protection Agency regulations went into effect that would make the company a “federal major source” of pollutants. Federal major sources are required to go through a Prevention of Significant Deterioration program, or PSD, that closely regulates and aims to reduce emissions.
The company’s greenhouse gas emissions are high enough that, had Intel applied once the program was in place, it would have needed to do the vetting and emissions testing PSD requires. It’s uncertain whether Intel will now need to participate in PSD because a Supreme Court case is currently challenging the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.
Davis said he expects that will be resolved this summer. If PSD still stands after that, Intel will likely need to go through the program, Davis said.
It’s also worth noting that an Intel attorney’s letter to DEQ last fall said the company was willing to be a part of PSD.