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Tacoma liquid gas plant gets go-ahead from state pollution board

caption: Puget Sound Energy's liquid natural gas tank (foreground), shown in 2019, is about as tall as the Tacoma Dome (background).
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Puget Sound Energy's liquid natural gas tank (foreground), shown in 2019, is about as tall as the Tacoma Dome (background).
KUOW Photo / John Ryan

A liquified natural gas plant on the Tacoma waterfront has gotten the green light from the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board. The board gave its final go-ahead for the controversial plant at the Port of Tacoma on Friday.

The Puyallup Tribe and five environmental groups have been trying to stop Puget Sound Energy from opening the plant for years.

The 14-story-tall concrete cylinder, already built, would store 8 million gallons of gas at -260 degrees Fahrenheit for fueling ships and other uses.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson have also weighed in against the plant and its anticipated climate impacts.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency approved the plant’s construction after erroneously concluding that it would have a net benefit for the climate by lowering ships’ use of petroleum fuels. The agency relied on decade-old studies that underestimated the climate impact of methane, the main component of natural gas and a powerful trapper of heat in the atmosphere.

Opponents appealing the air agency approval argued that the agency also underestimated the volatile organic compounds, particulates, nitrogen and sulfur dioxides, and toxic air pollutants that the plant would emit.

As well, they argued that the agency failed to formally consult with the government of the Puyallup Tribe.

The hearings board rejected almost every argument opponents made.

It did order Puget Sound Energy to install more equipment to continuously monitor sulfur dioxide and other emissions from the plant.

“We expect the decision will embolden companies that start projects that feed climate change and put vulnerable communities at risk,” the Puyallup Tribal Council said in an emailed statement.

Puget Sound Energy could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

An attorney for the project's opponents said Friday afternoon he was still reviewing the 99-page ruling, which can be appealed to the Washington state Superior Court.

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