Two activists, identified as Stephen Way and Carlo Voli, paddled across the waterway in the pre-dawn hours on Monday, crossed the security fence line around Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) construction site and locked themselves on a crane about 50 feet in the air at about 7 a.m. to protest the LNG project. The men came down peacefully around 4:30 p.m. and were promptly arrested and later charged with trespassing and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
“If I tried to build an addition to my house without permits, the City of Tacoma would make me stop, and might require me to undo the work done. If a powerful corporation like PSE can get away with what is happening here, then the community has to take a stand,” said Way in a press release.
The plant had been given a notice of violation by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency following a work stop request by the Puyallup Tribe in August, but construction continued on the facility, which is adjacent to the Puyallup Tribe’s reservation boundaries. The PSCAA’s notice, which cited PSE’s failure to have a notice of construction prior to construction of the facility, was the first step of possible corrective actions and fines. It did not seek construction of the facility to stop.
“The current circumstances of this case do not support pursuit of an order by the Agency to stop construction,” the agency wrote in a letter to the Puyallup Tribe. “If PSE had already built something that was clearly not approvable through an air permit, that would be a factor the Agency would consider. If PSE were operating a source without a required air permit approval and were showing no intention to remedy that noncompliant situation, that would also be a factor the Agency would consider. At the present time, our enforcement case is focused on correcting the noncompliance cited and PSE is working to resolve the issue.”
PSE wants to build the facility to provide a lower-emissions alternative to diesel used by container ships, namely nearby TOTE ships to and from Alaska. The facility would freeze natural gas so that it becomes a liquid for use in container ships as well as provide storage of natural gas for use by PSE gas customers during extreme weather spikes.
The Puyallup Tribe has fought against the plant for years, dating back to challenges of the plant’s environmental review over questions of how construction at the Superfund site could potentially leach toxins into the waterway and threaten salmon runs. The Tribe and environmental activists from 350 Seattle and Tacoma, and Tacoma Direct Action have also questioned the safety of having a natural gas plant so close to sea level that is also within earthquake and lahar zones.
“We are obligated to protect our land and water,” Tribal Councilmember Sylvia Miller said.
The whole protest was live-streamed on Facebook through Native Daily Network and shared by Redefine Tacoma Community Forum as well as other environmental groups, with promises of more direct action as construction continues. Some 85,000 people watched the video feed throughout the day.
“It’s not going to stop here,” Tribal Councilmember James Rideout said. “We didn’t make this happen. Liquefied natural gas made this happen… Ultimately, we have to protect who we are as an indigenous people.”
Activists also worry that the LNG plant is an investment in outdated technology – fossil fuel – at a time when investments should be made in greener technologies.
“The time for talk is over. The planet is on fire and in dire need of first responders,” said Robert Satiacum, Puyallup Tribal member and host of Tribal Talk Radio on KLAY radio. “Disregarding the Puyallup Tribe’s objections is criminal: No means no.”
Monday’s protest came as trial started for two protesters who were among the “Super Six” that chained themselves to a construction auger at the site in May. The six protesters remained on the construction equipment for four and a half hours before agreeing to come down. They were immediately arrested, jailed for two days and charged with second-degree criminal trespass and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.