Sounding Board #2 and #3
The Lands Council director believes a silicon smelter could be clean
Mike Peterson, executive director of the Lands Council, recently studied the proposed Newport silicon smelter and submitted comment to the Department of Ecology (DOE) as it develops an environmental impact statement.
The Lands Council finds the proposed configuration unacceptable, he said, but the DOE can explore options and "do the right thing so the smelter does not pollute the air, water, land, wildlife and humans."
As it's configured, it would emit two tons of sulfur dioxide and two tons of nitrous dioxide a day, he said.
While community discussion may be hard, Mike urges people to examine the science and issues.
"If we are to switch to a renewable energy economy, solar may be a big part, so there may be need to dig quartz and refine it to make silicon," he said. "Making steel and aluminum for wind turbines also consumes energy and raw materials, and may pollute.
"We need to be concerned about every step of making silicon—mining, smelting, delivering and installing solar panels. If we do that, we can compare the impact of solar with wind, coal, dams and nuclear.
"The best way to reduce carbon is with more efficient lights, heat and transportation," he said. "Considering that more people use and want to use energy to improve their standard of living, we want to produce more energy with less carbon," he said. "In producing any energy, the process must be as clean as possible.
"Whether the smelter is at Newport or elsewhere, the question is how much sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide it produces," Mike said. "Emissions need to be reduced to the point it's acceptable to the community and complies with state and federal environmental laws. If that's not possible, we may need to rethink solar."
One way to reduce sulfur in converting quartz to silicon is to use biochar or charcoal—from crop, wood or field residue—rather than coal, which is high in sulfur, he said.
Mike said that PacWest recently decided to save transportation costs and use coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana rather than Kentucky. He hopes they save costs by using biochar produced near the site.
"Scrubbing may cost more, but 99 percent of nitrous oxides, a second pollutant, can be scrubbed out as steel and aluminum plants do," said Mike.
Another concern is the amount of water used. Mike said it may use more than the Little Spokane River flow. The proposed site is at the headwaters of the Little Spokane River, and on the nexus of water flowing into the Pend Oreille River and Lake Pend Oreille.
He thinks water flow could be solved and water quality depends on whether the company releases pollutants or recycles water as they propose.
"Every silicon smelter should reduce air pollutants and track emissions, so producing solar panels does not pollute," he said.
"A third question is the siting. Often, polluting industries locate in low-income communities—a form of environmental injustice," Mike said. "Originally, the plan was for an old industrial site upwind of the Kalispel Reservation. Then PacWest moved to Newport, a rural town where people don't want smokestacks at the edge of their property. Pend Oreille County has cheap electricity.
"Wherever a silicon smelter is located, pollution issues must be solved," said Mike. "As it's currently configured, it pollutes."
Another concern is that the state gave the company $300,000 to move the project along to make silicon for solar panels and create jobs in the county, which has high unemployment.
Mike said labor unions want jobs, but it's not a matter of jobs or no jobs, it's to have jobs as clean as possible. He believes silicon plants can be clean.
He said the DOE will take a year to do an environmental impact report, which will analyze impacts and ways to mitigate them.
For information, call 838-4912, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit landscouncil.org.
Carmelite and Franciscan sisters, Buddhist community express concerns, opposition
Thubten Tarpa of Sravasti Abbey near Newport, said Buddhist community members have gone to meetings with the County Commissioners and Department of Ecology, asked questions and done research to understand the issues, written letters to the editor and to officials, and emailed people to learn and write letters.
She listed some concerns: "I believe it will be harmful to area residents. It is near schools and downtown. The pollution will blow farther and impact forests and waterways, compromising the health of people. In case of accidents or fires, we do not have the safety infrastructure for hazardous waste services to handle it."
Tarpa believes some people from around the world may be discouraged from coming to the abbey.
She knows the county needs economic growth, but doesn't think the smelter is the way to do it.
Carmelite Sisters of Mary, who live on 80 acres in mountain wilderness at their retreat center near Newport, have written letters opposing the smelter.
Sister Leslie Lund OCDH said they have been concerned because it "was dropped on us as fait accompli; because of the irregular land sales; because of the governor subsidizing a Canadian company; because it would be harmful for the area that draws people to all season recreation to hunt, bird watch, fish, boat and ski; because workers would work in 120-to-150 degree heat, and because for so few jobs the smelter would ruin the quality of life for thousands in this recreational area of scenic beauty.
"Part of our charism is the care for the earth," she said. "In 2003, we were wildlife farm of the year in Pend Oreille County."
In March, Sr. Pat Millen, OSF, wrote Governor Jay Inslee to express her concerns about the smelter and her disappointment that his administration is considering supporting it. She finds it inconsistent with his intentions to make Washington" a leader in clean air and energy.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2019