Thursday, January 14, 2020

Jan Hasselman, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice
Ph: (206) 343-7340 x. 1025

Zachary DeWolf, Communications Director, Washington Environmental Council
Ph: (206) 771-4207 (mobile)

Washington State Attorney General Filed Amicus Brief in Support of Lawsuit Challenging Puget Sound Energy’s LNG Facility in Tacoma, calling out issues with evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions

[Tacoma, WA] — Last week, Washington AG Ferguson weighed in to support environmental advocates’ challenge of PSE’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in Tacoma, agreeing that the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) failed in its responsibility to evaluate the true climate impacts of the project. The amicus brief submitted to the Pollution Control Hearing Board of Washington cited PSCAA’s failure to adequately consider upstream emissions from methane leakage and its inappropriate reliance on speculative assumptions about displacement of dirtier fuel types. 

The amicus brief, linked here, concludes with the following:

The errors in the FSEIS, like those at issue in High Country Conservation Advocates, are “more than mere ‘flyspeck.’” Because of these errors, the bottom-line greenhouse gas calculation erroneously informed decision-makers that the Project would result in a slight improvement in greenhouse gas emissions, where an accurate analysis would have revealed something different. SEPA demands more. The Attorney General’s Office respectfully asks the Board to deny the Respondents’ Second Dispositive Motion.

Permitting of the controversial LNG facility has been a bellwether for the broader challenges Washington faces in catching up with the broad scientific consensus in recent years that the climate impacts of fracked gas have been widely underestimated. AG Ferguson’s amicus brief comes in the midst of this broader debate surrounding the role of fracked gas in Washington’s energy future as Governor Inslee has proposed an ambitious climate policy agenda and the state also weighs a permit decision on a similarly controversial fracked gas-to-methanol facility proposed in Kalama. 

The AG’s amicus affirms the broader science for assessing the true impacts to our climate from fracked gas and the critical need to ensure clear, reliable, scientifically defensible analysis of GHG emissions on all projects asserting they are part of our clean energy future.

“We appreciate the Attorney General weighing in on this critical issue,” said Jan Hasselman, Staff Attorney with Earthjustice.  “Washington agencies should not be greenlighting new fossil fuel infrastructure, at least before leveling with the public about what it means for the climate. LNG is a step in the wrong direction for Tacoma and the state.”

One of the organizations represented by Earthjustice, Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma (ACT), is pleased to see the Washington State Attorney General’s office join the lawsuit against the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for its inaccurate and misleading analysis of the projected greenhouse gas emissions from the facility, stating that this amicus brief is a clear indication that PSCAA needs to go back to the drawing board in assessing this project. 

“The AG was correct in highlighting the inaccurate greenhouse gas emissions accounting that PSCAA did for the LNG facility,” says Todd Hay, President of ACT. “Citizens expect their public officials to provide fair and honest analysis for such critical initiatives, and PSCAA failed in this respect.”

The challenge against the PSE’s LNG facility is expected to be heard in March. The decision from the Pollution Control Hearing Board will determine whether PSE can proceed with the project or whether their permits are invalid and additional evaluation from PSCAA is necessary. 


Additional background:  

The Attorney General’s Office has been following the Tacoma LNG facility for years. In 2018, they submitted a comment to PSCAA on the draft SEIS. A copy of the comment letter is posted here:

In 2017, PSCAA, the lead permitting agency, adopted a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Adding new gas infrastructure contradicts the intent of their own policy. 

Last year WA updated its climate targets (HB 2311) and updated the state’s energy strategy to achieve these targets. Key actions called out in this updated strategy include replacing fracked gas with clean energy, getting off fossil fuels economy-wide, and doing so in an equitable way. Following the completion of this strategy, Governor Inslee has proposed bills now in play during the 2021 legislative session to begin addressing this need, including adopting a clean fuel standard for transportation fuels and removing fossil fuels from our buildings infrastructure. Additionally, the state is currently undergoing guidance development of how to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions under our State Environmental Policy Act in a scientifically-sound manner of new major fossil fuel facilities like Tacoma LNG and Kalama Methanol, recognizing the inconsistencies in this process to date  

The role of fracked gas and a robust understanding of its climate impacts are central to these policies and Washington achieving its climate goals. Robust, science-based evaluation of policies and projects is particularly essential as the gas industry has pushed fracked gas as a climate solution and contributed to insufficient and faulty information on the potent impacts methane has on the climate. 

Read here ACT’s Opposition to PSE’s Second Dispositive Motion: