UPDATE (Sept. 5, 12:50 p.m. PT) - An ethanol facility in Clatskanie is one step closer to receiving approval to use equipment from its renewable fuel operation to transport crude oil.
Last week, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air pollution permit to Global Partners, which has also applied to renew an air-quality permit for its Clatskanie facility. The permit regulates on-site emissions that come from the equipment used there.
Environmental advocates are asking state regulators to not renew the permit, as they fear the company will transport crude oil, increasing pollution impacts along the river.
“This facility was built to accept corn trains and turn corn into ethanol. Which is a very different proposal than having trains full of flammable toxic oil rolling through Portland, rolling through all these Columbia County Communities,” Columbia Riverkeeper’s Dan Serres said.
In 2018, the Port of Columbia County approved a change to Global’s lease allowing the company to handle diluted bitumen, a form of heavy tar sands oil. The permit issued on Aug. 30, 2019, states Global Partners “is prohibited from performing the transloading of crude oil.” But environmental advocates say the Department of Environmental Quality ignores Global Partners’ stated intention to use the same tanks and equipment to ship oil under a separate permit.
“The state of Oregon continues to green-light a project that they know will put our communities at real and immediate risk,” said Bob Sallinger, director of conservation at Portland Audubon. “We need real leadership from the governor and the agencies charged with protecting our communities and our environment, but all we are getting right now is bureaucratic excuses.”
DEQ Northwest region air quality manager Steve Dietrich said his agency determines whether to issue a permit based on the application information it receives.
"And then the tools that we use are our regulations and our guidelines to issue permits for this type of facility," he said.
Global Partners VP of External Communications Catie Kerns said the permit renewal is narrowly focused on the ethanol manufacturing and only a minor change to include wheat as a feed stock. This change increases the opportunity to restart biofuel manufacturing using a regionally produced feedstock: wheat.
"It is important to Global to maintain the preparedness of the plant to produce renewable fuel and help meet the regions clean fuel requirements," Kerns said. "We need this type of manufacturing in this state and in our community, and we are pleased DEQ issued this permit on its merits."
The DEQ will look into issuing a separate permit for Global Partners' planned oil operations later this year.
Correction: Sept. 5, 2019. An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that Global Partners had not responded to a request for comment. Due to a reporter error, the request for comment had been left as a voicemail with the telephone system of another organization, not Global Partners.