Opposition mounts to HiTest’s proposed silicon smelter

On Monday, the Kalispel Tribe’s governing council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the HiTest silicon smelter. We took this sovereign action because it is necessary to protect the health, culture, and natural resources of our people. The Tribe is committed to supporting economic growth in Pend Oreille County, but not if we have to sacrifice the health of our kids and generations to come.

The Tribe waited for more than a year to take a position on the smelter in order to give HiTest an opportunity to show that the smelter’s emissions would not be harmful. Emissions data recently disclosed in HiTest’s Draft PSD Modeling Protocol prove otherwise. The smelter would generate 320,000 tons of greenhouse gases, 760 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 700 tons of nitrogen oxides each year. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by 65,000 cars driving 11,000 miles each through the streets of Newport per year, and the amount of sulfur dioxide generated by burning 165,000 woodstoves continuously at the proposed smelter location. Even if HiTest were able to obtain air quality permits for the smelter, this pollution burden would be bad for our air, bad for our health, bad for our natural resources, and bad for all of our local businesses that rely on clean air.

There are a number of other compelling reasons to oppose the smelter. First, the Tribe wants to support the many community members who have voiced concerns about the smelter and asked for our help. We understand their outrage over the smelter’s sudden arrival in Newport because we had the same experience in Usk. We share their health concerns because the relationship between poor air quality and asthma, heart, and developmental problems is undeniable.

Second, we have significant concerns about HiTest. We question HiTest’s commitment to collaboration in light of its failure to consult with the Tribe before selecting the smelter’s Usk location and subsequent failure to meet with local citizens before relocating to Newport. We question HiTest’s commitment to transparency due to its failure to disclose the smelter’s emissions information for more than a year, failure to notify local citizens of its intent to acquire public property in Newport, and failure to specify the number and average wage of jobs that could actually be filled by local residents. We question HiTest’s credibility in light of its attempt to use improper data to model the smelter’s air quality impacts, and its assertion that the Governor can authorize all permits required to build and operate the plant. If these actions were mistakes, we question HiTest’s commitment to care and diligence. These are not questions we should have of an employer who is supposed to be the bedrock of our community for years to come.

Third, we are concerned about regulatory compliance. Even if HiTest’s air quality modeling suggests that its emissions will meet applicable regulations, there is a possibility that its actual emissions will not. By that time, the $300 million facility will have been built and be, for all intents and purposes, too big to fail. HiTest will be given time and leeway to fix any emission violations. Monitoring corrective actions will take even more time. In short, our community may have to endure elevated levels of air pollution for years before the smelter’s actual emissions are adequately controlled or the facility is shut down.

Fourth, Pend Oreille County doesn’t need HiTest to revitalize its economy. The smelter came to our region for its cheap electricity and strategic location. Plenty of other companies would be attracted by these attributes if we, as a community, took the time to find them. The Tribe is actively working with community leaders to revitalize the local economy through our participation on the Economic Development Council and is committed to attracting new businesses to Pend Oreille County.

The Tribe does not blame the county commissioners for their interest in the smelter as advertised by HiTest. However, we call on them to revisit their position now that they have a better understanding of the human and environmental costs of the smelter, and are hearing vigorous opposition to the smelter from their electorate. There is a solution at hand because the property HiTest acquired is zoned as public land, which designation prohibits industrial development and cannot be changed without an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan. As the county is under no obligation to modify its comprehensive plan, the Tribe urges them to take advantage of this out.

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