Sounding Board #1
Natural resources head offers science for Kalispel Tribe's opposition to silicon smelter
Soon after the Kalispel Tribe of Indians learned in August 2016 about plans to locate a silicon smelter half a mile from its reservation, members challenged it. The Canadian company HiTest—now PacWest—then proposed a site in Newport 15 miles away but still in the reservation's airshed.
Deane Osterman, executive director of the Kalispel's Natural Resources Department, continues the challenge. He has worked 25 years with the tribe's offices in Usk and at the Saranac Building in Spokane.
In Spokane, he collaborates with the Upper Columbia United Tribes and with Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, especially on fish and wildlife.
"The smelter was originally pitched to state leaders as a green project with all the silicon made to be used in solar panels," he said. "PacWest has walked that amount back, presently asserting that just 5 percent would be used for the solar industry."
Deane is concerned Governor Jay Inslee streamlined permits because of his focus on climate change, but he added that "pollution from the smelter would be large and as currently proposed would go unmitigated."
Given emissions from smelting silicon, he wonders if solar energy will reduce emissions and is concerned the silicon may go to other products.
Deane said silicon is smelted from ultrapure quartz (silicon dioxide), mined near Golden, B.C. The chemical process is energy intensive, requiring high heat to split the two oxygen atoms from the silicon atom. The smelter would use metallurgical coal, wood chips and charcoal to capture the oxygen atoms in the furnace. He said it would produce 766,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 307 tons of carbon monoxide, 649 tons of sulfur dioxide and 935 tons of nitrogen oxides annually.
"Waste would go up the stack, creating haze, and human and environmental health problems. Regulations are important for public health," he said.
PacWest needed a special permit to fast track it, so there have been public hearings for comments. The environmental community has expressed concern, he said.
"Seeking to be a steward of the air, water and land, the tribe has gathered information on impacts on communities, nature and the world," he said. "We are sharing information and stories on our website."
Deane, whose degrees from Eastern Washington University are in biological anthropology and zoology, said the smelter would compromise the air, and with it community, cultural and environmental health.
In 2017, the Kalispel Tribe began the process of re-designating its air-shed from Class 2 to Class 1 under the Clean Air Act, increasing protection for the air above and inside the reservation to reduce health problems, enhance the health of fish, wildlife and plants, and increase worker productivity, property values, quality of life and economic wellbeing.
Even if the smelter were sited 15 miles away in Newport, he said, there is potential threat to the air quality from emissions. To predict how emissions would dissipate, he said there is still time to collect meteorological information—wind conditions and barometric pressure—at the site for a year.
"It's an environmental justice issue when big companies site plants near vulnerable, economically challenged communities needing jobs," he said. "The Kalispel Tribe supports smart economic development. We need to figure out what makes sense for economic development for our community, not dance with the first proposal.The tribe wants economic development to be community based and protect the environment.
"The proposal to build in a desperate area has divided Pend Oreille and Bonner counties," he said. "There are no educational meetings for dialogue to inform people."
In contrast, the process for relicensing dams was contentious, but professionals on many sides engaged in dialogue and became partners, he said.
"We are not binary, just for or against something. We are complex. We need dialogue. We need to find the sweet spot."
Deane said Franciscan values from his upbringing in Spokane's St. Francis of Assisi Parish influence his belief that "we need to take care of people."
As a tribal employee, he also shares tribal values and admires the tribe's perseverance through their history.
He urges citizens to pressure state and federal agencies, politicians and the corporation. The Kalispel and other tribes in the Northwest and Alaska have written letters of opposition.
For information, call 993-0879 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2019