Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery

The Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery, at Port Westward in Clatskanie.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has granted Global Partners, LP, which also operates as Cascade Kelly Holdings, LLC, a renewal of its Standard Air Contaminant Discharge Permit for its Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery (CPBR), at Port Westward in Clatskanie.

The permit will allow the facility to construct equipment to produce ethanol from wheat and to recover wheat coproducts after fermentation. The facility had previously been able to produce ethanol from corn, although they have not done so since 2009, according to the DEQ’s hearing officer’s report on the permit renewal. CPBR has also applied for a second permit renewal, which is an air quality permit for transloading of crude oil. That permit has not yet reached the public comment period.

During the public comment period for the recently renewed air quality permit, DEQ received 276 written comments, 812 names of people either supporting or opposing the permit and 37 spoken comments at a public hearing that DEQ held in July.

Both permits have been sources of controversy since the first air quality permit was introduced earlier this year.

The environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper as well as individual residents from Columbia County have criticized various aspects of the permits. DEQ received many comments regarding fears that this permit allows for circumventing the permitting process for the transloading facility, sharing equipment between the ethanol and transloading facilities, as well as other comments regarding climate change.

Liz Tehraar, Communications Director for Columbia Riverkeeper, explained some of the reasoning behind these concerns in a statement released to The Chronicle on July 24.

“The permit renewals contain overlapping components. This is both confusing and concerning,” Tehraar, speaking on behalf of Columbia Riverkeeper, said. “Global’s overlapping permit applications for ethanol production and oil train shipments raise the concern that Global could obtain permits to build, buy, and operate additional tanks for one purpose (ethanol) while planning to use them for another (crude oil).”

Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist for the Northwest Region of DEQ explained some of the overlapping elements in the two permits.

“The tanks are separated,” Wirtis said. “The tanks are allocated for ethanol and for transloading crude oil. What is shared is some of the lines through which those materials are transmitted.”

DEQ responded directly to comments regarding that the two permits would allow for the circumvention of the permitting process for the transloading facility.

“CPBR is required to submit a notice of intent to construct for modifications to the ethanol and transloading facility,” the report states. “Because the facilities are considered separate sources of air pollution the transfer of equipment from one to the other is considered a modification and is treated like new construction.”

Another type of comment DEQ responded to was a comment that items not be shared between the facilities. DEQ responded that air quality permits are issued for source.

“The fact that they use some of the same equipment doesn’t change the fact that the tanks are used for two different operations and therefore belong to two different sources and in-turn two separate air contaminant discharge permits,” the DEQ report states.

Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper, explained the reasoning behind their concern, which is mainly concern for the potential impact of oil trains through the county.

“We’ve been concerned for a long time about oil trains coming through Columbia County,” Serres said. “If one of them were to derail we could have another Mosier type of event.”

Serres also explained that Columbia Riverkeeper has concerns about Global itself. The company purchased the bankrupt CPBR at Port Westward in 2013, which had already been an ethanol production plant. Since then, the company has been involved in some controversies. One of the major controversies occurred in 2014 when DEQ fined Global for shipping more oil than its permits allowed.

In December of 2018, the Port of Columbia County also approved a change to Global’s lease to allow the company to move heavy oil in addition to ethanol and lighter crude.

“Their long-term plan is to move back to oil, otherwise they wouldn’t have asked the port for permission to handle oil,” Serres said.

Catie Kerns, the Vice President of External Communications for Global Partners denied these speculations.

“Since 2015 we have shipped only ethanol and currently have no plans to ship oil. If we were to resume export of oils, we would communicate in advance with the local community,” Kerns wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “Neither of these permit renewals change our operations except for allowing ethanol to be manufactured from a locally grown commodity—wheat. There are no modification requests to the transloading permit.”

The second permit, a transloading permit for oil, has not been open for public comment yet, but when it does Serres said that Riverkeeper will be engaging the public.

“I hope they press the pause button and really think this through,” Serres said about DEQ.

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