Op-Ed

Physician says bad science is behind permit process for LNG plant in Tacoma

Along with physicians across Washington state, I stand with the Puyallup Tribe in opposing Puget Sound Energy’s Liquid Natural Gas project proposed in Tacoma. The build-out of fracked gas infrastructure threatens our health and our environment in the South Sound.

Climate change is already impacting our health here in our region and worldwide. Last summer we had to tell our most vulnerable patients — children, pregnant women, elders and those with lung and heart disease — that they shouldn’t go outside in the summertime (our most beautiful season) due to the air pollution from wildfires. We are feeling other impacts in our region, including extreme heat, and a higher incidence of certain infectious diseases.

Health professionals across the Pacific Northwest have good reasons to oppose the Tacoma LNG project. In addition to warming our climate, extracting fracked gas releases toxic air contaminants that exacerbate asthma and contribute to cancer, heart disease, and even premature death. The fracked gas for this project would be sourced from British Columbia, where my fellow physicians see fracking’s impact on health up close: harm to pregnant mothers and preterm births, respiratory illness, and an increased incidence of cancer and neurological diseases.

The recent report released by Oregon and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility confirmed that the LNG facility would create safety and health threats. Similar facilities have exploded and caused injuries; in 2015, an explosion at an LNG project along the Columbia River in Plymouth, Wash., injured first responders and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

Over one thousand migrants are detained at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, where there is no evacuation plan.

PSE needs one more permit from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) for this project to proceed. Despite PSCAA’s positive step in requiring a greenhouse gas assessment, their analysis thus far has missed the mark. The agency used inaccurate science to account for the project’s climate impacts, and has failed to consult adequately with the Puyallup Tribe as required by law.

Our climate situation is dire. I want my beautiful granddaughter to live in a world with clean air, clean water, a safe and plentiful food supply, and biological diversity.

Building this new facility deepens our addiction to fossil fuels at a time when we must urgently convert to renewable energy in every sector. We can’t afford to lock ourselves in to more fossil fuel projects like Puget Sound Energy’s LNG facility. PSCAA should revise its analysis to reflect accurate science, address the lack of consultation with the Puyallup Tribe, and reject its permit.

Lisa Johnson, MD, is a family physician who lives and practices in Olympia and is a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR). WPSR is part of the regional Power Past Fracked Gas coalition.

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