Groups Blast DEQ Proposal on Factory Farm Gas Refinery

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Last week, seven organizations in the Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition submitted comments blasting an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) proposal to reduce certain air pollution permit requirements for the Threemile Canyon factory farm gas refinery.

According to the coalition, the DEQ’s proposal would allow the facility to emit more dangerous air pollutants including fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gasses and fails to acknowledge the full extent of the facility’s air pollution.

The permit modification follows what the coalition calls Threemile Canyon’s repeated violations of its air quality permit between June 1, 2019, and at least Sept. 30, 2020, drawing $19,500 in fines for releasing illegal amounts of health-damaging fine particulate matter.

The group says DEQ’s proposal would weaken the permit to make these violations legal at the expense of surrounding communities.

The DEQ, however, said that its analysis of the new proposed emission limits shows the air in the surrounding area will remain within federal air quality standards meant to protect health.

Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist for the DEQ’s eastern region, said the proposed air quality permit modifications do allow for increased emissions for fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases. Gleim, however, noted that the modifications would also reduce emissions limits for large particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

“All other emission limits remain the same,” said Gleim. She said the permit does not cover emissions from the dairy itself. Currently, dairies and CAFOs in Oregon are only required to obtain an air permit for operating certain manure digesters that produce biogas.

The groups argue that without DEQ regulation of emissions from the factory farm dairy operations that feed the gas refinery, the true extent of the facility’s pollution is overlooked, and the permit is illegal.

The proposed permit modification follows a decision by DEQ late last year to deny a Food & Water Watch-led petition from almost two dozen organizations calling on the agency to create a dairy air emissions regulatory program. The Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition is calling for a legislative moratorium on new and expanding factory farms to address the industry’s harms.

“To weaken Threemile Canyon’s air pollution permit is to endorse the facility’s history of air quality violations,” said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Tyler Lobdell said in a statement last week. “The DEQ must uphold its responsibility to Oregonians and state law by strengthening, not weakening, this air pollution permit.”

A public comment period closed last week on a proposed air quality permit modification for the WOF PNW Threemile Project LLC, which produces electricity and renewable natural gas from cow manure at Threemile Canyon Farms near Boardman. DEQ posted a draft air quality permit modification for public comment on Jan. 5. Comments were due to DEQ Thursday, Feb. 9.

The permit regulates emissions from WOF PNW’s manure digester, methane gas treatment system, biosolids dryer, and engines that produce electricity on-site.

Gleim said the DEQ is currently reviewing comments.

“We’ll consider all comments received by the deadline before making a decision on the permit modification,” said Gleim.