Gas Wars: Tribe vs. LNG

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By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

Just when the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued Puget Sound Energy (PSE) the final permit last week for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at the Tacoma tideflats, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians voiced its continued opposition – and seems to be in a lonely place with it.

At an event held at Chief Leschi Schools, members of the Puyallup Tribal Council declared a “climate state of emergency,” unanimously passing a five-page resolution and calling out LNG specifically. That same evening, Tacoma City Council approved its own climate emergency resolution with no mention of LNG. 

In fact, among city, county and state government leaders overall, there really is no consensus on LNG in Tacoma. Only Gov. Jay Inslee initially supported the facility, but later did an about face under pressure from environmentalists as he was planning a run for U.S. president on a climate change platform.

While the permit issuance surmounts one of the final barriers for the beleaguered LNG facility – which is obviously a done deal from just looking at it – Puyallup tribal leadership won’t change their stance that the facility is bad for Tacoma. At a time when the tribe and city are rubbing elbows more than any time in recent memory, not seeing eye-to-eye on LNG is noticeable. Tribal leadership has been quite vocal in how important the issue is to them, so the tribe and city not standing together to make big climate change announcements only exacerbates the divide between them on LNG.

Tribal leaders want the city to engage in meaningful dialog with them about LNG, but while that may have happened in appearance, tribal leaders still don’t have what they want – no LNG in Tacoma. Tribal council member Annette Bryan has long said that the city isn’t listening to them. 

In a statement, the tribal council accuses PSE of deceiving the public. It reads, in part: “From the beginning, PSE engaged in a deceptive marketing campaign of promoting LNG as a soundbite-friendly ‘transition fuel.’ PSE originally proposed Tacoma LNG as primarily a storage facility that would help meet peak demand for natural gas in the winter for heating needs.”

The Puyallup tribe’s gas stations sell so much fuel that APP gives the casino free advertising. 

The tribe cites “grave safety risks of explosion hazards” and “hazardous and toxic air pollution emissions” as reasons to deny having the LNG plant in Tacoma. 

“The simplistic claims of a ‘transition fuel’ are alluring. But from fracking to pipelines to storage as LNG, methane is a dangerous threat. It is a powerful greenhouse gas that leaks into the atmosphere, and LNG presents a danger to people living near it should anything go wrong.

The tribe is not happy with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency either, which the tribe says has ignored their concerns. “It has not engaged in meaningful consultation with the Tribe and insists there is no ‘specific legal authority’ that would permit it to engage in consultation, despite the fact that its power is delegated from the state of Washington and the federal government,” as stated in a press release. “Today’s decision (to issue the final LNG permit) is a moral failure on PSCAA’s part. It is an insult to residents. It is an insult to the Tribe.”

Despite that the LNG plant is just about complete, the tribe is still calling for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Fuel spills: Playing their own part in the expansion of fossil fuels, with about a dozen Puyallup tribal gas stations in place, fuel spills happen there too, yet tribal leadership has made no mention of removing them. Will they be here in 15 years, and will there be new ones? 

A TALE OF TWO RESOLUTIONS

The tribe’s resolution includes an ambitious 18-point “climate emergency mobilization effort to combat global warming that will result in a just transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050.” 

The city’s resolution presents a less formidable set of tasks to accomplish to combat climate change. It outlines directives for the city manager to work with the Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability and Tacoma Public Utilities, updating the city’s Environmental Action Plan by 2021 and calls for city staff to receive education and engagement on climate issues. 

Neither the tribe’s nor the city’s resolutions mention working with each other. 

In the tribe’s 18-point list, it vows to:

  • Commit to a climate emergency mobilization effort to combat global warming that will result in a just transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050;
  • Establish a goal to transition existing fossil fuel facilities to non-fossil fuel sources by 2035;
  • Establish a goal by 2035 to replace aged marine engines for retrofit and replacement as part of its marine fleet and work to explore engine replacement programs for tribal members;
  • Establish a Sustainability Manager position and a Sustainability Committee to identify measures for the tribe to address waste, recycling, climate change and energy efficiency;
  • Adopt sustainable procurement and recycling strategies;
  • Conduct a survey to evaluate culturally significant lands most threatened by climate change and proper measures to protect these sites;

This list represents just a handful of what the tribe intends to take on. To read the full resolution, visit www.puyalluptribe-nsn.gov.

NOT A GREEN MONEY MAKING MACHINE

Additionally, the tribe’s to-do list in its resolution states that “the Puyallup Tribe of Indians will evaluate all future government facilities built be considered for sustainable building practices and treatments.” This doesn’t take into account the tribe’s biggest/most expensive construction project to date: its new Emerald Queen Casino.

Plastic problem: The tribe’s casino is a huge consumer of plastics – drink cups, utensils, etc. – which will result in tons of plastics ending up in the Puyallup River and other waterways

Casinos are by nature major energy consumers. Coming in at 310,000 square feet, the new EQC’s carbon footprint will be big. However, there is nothing stated in the tribe’s public outreach about any green elements at the new EQC such as water conservation, solar power, waste reduction or recycling. 

The amount of carbon emitted from casino development and operation, including from cars, trucks, buses, and construction vehicles, contradicts the tribe’s resolve to create a carbon neutral economy by 2050. Running vehicle motors produce carbon monoxide and particulate matter that results in poor or dangerous air quality. 

As a sovereign nation, the Puyallup Tribe is not required to obtain permits of any kind from the City of Tacoma nor undergo any independent inspections, according to Philip Kao, assistant division manager of the city’s permit services division. “Planning and Development Services (PDS) has not reviewed or inspected any building permits for the Emerald Queen Casino project nor have we conducted any environmental review,” he said. 

Making Puget Sound cleaner: Reducing fossil fuels is what LNG does. Why are tribal leaders against it? 

This means that it is totally up to the tribe to fulfill its responsibilities to install green and environmentally conscious elements into the new casino. 

The tribe’s numerous gas stations also create significant problems in curbing climate change. Gas stations pose significant hazards to people, pets and wildlife. With a steady flow of cars passing through the tribal gas stations, diesel fuel or gasoline drips from the nozzle onto the ground and vapors leak from open gas tanks into the air. This can lead to air pollution from toxic fumes like benzene, which causes cancer, and from volatile organic compoundsthat harm human health and contribute to ozone pollution.When fuel that spills to the ground builds up and seeps into underlying soil and groundwater, this creates soil pollution that is made worse with stormwater runoff. Underground pipes or tanks that rust or leak can also release contaminants into surrounding areas. 

Another broken promise: Development continues at the Port of Tacoma, but the tribe’s portion of the property continues to sit vacant. How does this help the economy?

THE BOTTOM LINE

If the Puyallup Tribe can earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its Northeast Tacoma Longhouse housing complex, which it did in 2012, the question remains of why can’t the same be done for the much bigger and consuming new casino? Will the tribe cease building gas stations across Tacoma, or close its existing ones? Will tribal leadership vote to give its 6,000-plus membership incentives to drive electric or hybrid cars?

In the words of Puyallup Chairman David Bean at Tuesday’s climate emergency declaration, “We’ve reached crisis mode. Our climate is getting hotter and more extreme… The time to act is now.”

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