The Kalispel Tribe of Indians is seeking federal air quality redesignation, which could prevent certain industries from locating on or near the tribe’s Usk, Wash.-based reservation, says Dean Osterman, the tribe’s executive director of natural resources.
The tribe decided to request the designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year due to uncertainties about the emission levels that could be produced by a silicon smelter proposed by Edmonton, Alberta-based HiTest Sand Inc., Osterman says.
HiTest originally proposed to construct a $300 million smelter near the Ponderay Newsprint Co. paper mill, in Usk, Osterman says.
The Class A air quality redesignation would impose pollution limits on new or modified stationary industrial sources that emit at least 100 tons of regulated pollutants annually, says Zach Welcker, senior policy analyst with the tribe’s natural resources department.
“Not many of those exist on the east side of the state,” Welcker says.
He says the designation wouldn’t affect existing industrial users or day-to-day rural activities, such as the use of wood stoves.
Osterman says the limited information the tribe has been able to obtain about the HiTest proposal indicates emissions would far exceed the 100-ton level.
He says the tribe also has seen indications that HiTest desires a site that would give it the ability to expand the facility to at least double the initial proposed capacity.
The tribe is seeking the Class A designation under the federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration program, which was authorized through the federal Clean Air Act. Osterman says he anticipates the EPA will approve the request soon.
The Class A designation has been used to protect air quality in national parks and designated wilderness areas.
It’s also been granted to a number of Native American tribes.
“The closest is the Spokane Tribe, which did it 18 years ago,” Welcker says. “A lot of people we’ve talked to weren’t aware of the Spokane Tribe redesignation. That tells you it has a limited economic impact, but it’s also an important risk-management tool.”
As reported in the Aug. 17 issue of the Journal, HiTest now is exploring a site south of Newport as a potential location for a silicon smelter.
HiTest plans to refine high-quality silica from a mine it owns in Canada, about 300 miles north of Newport.
Large quantities of wood chips would be burned in the silicon-smelting process.
John Carlson, an Edmonton-based spokesman for HiTest, says the company might issue an announcement in September regarding the Newport site, pending results of an environmental analysis.
“The Newport site hits all the criteria for us,” Carlson says. “We need a large piece of land and proximity to cheap electricity.”
Carlson declines to comment on the Kalispel Tribe’s air quality redesignation request or reasons behind HiTest rejecting the Usk site and another site in neighboring Stevens County.
HiTest has identified strong domestic markets for silicon metal, which is used in manufacturing solar panels, computer chips, and aluminum, he says.
The Washington state Department of Commerce has awarded a $300,000 grant to help streamline the permitting process for the HiTest smelter.
Carlson says the smelter would have more than 100 permanent employees.
HiTest hasn’t submitted a new request for power to Pend Oreille County Public Utility District yet, but Carlson confirms that the company might want to expand the smelter after it comes on line.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE