Kalispel Tribe Appeals to Governor Over Concerns with Silicon Smelter

Jan 23, 2018


The Kalispel Tribe is hoping a meeting with Governor Inslee will help stop a proposed silicon smelter from being permitted in northeast Washington, near its reservation.

Members of the Kalispel tribal council met with Governor Jay Inslee in late December.

At issue: their concerns about the proposed Hi Test Sand smelter, which would be built in Newport, if approved by regulators.

The proposal qualified as a project of “statewide significance” and received $300,000 from the state to begin studies on the construction.

The tribe has concerns with the amount of pollution it will produce, and asked the governor to rescind the significance designation.

Hi Test’s own draft modeling shows the plant would emit some 320,000 tons of greenhouse gases, 760 tons of sulfur dioxide and 700 tons of nitrogen oxide each year.

Tribal Council spokesman Curt Holmes says the appeal to the governor comes in part because of his strong push for reducing carbon emissions.

“On one hand you’re going to support a smelter project that is going to burn coal, and yet the same day you have a bill that calls for the end of coal burning by 2020. So why would you invest in a $300 million project, when you’re only saying it has a ten-year window, according to your clean air bill,” said Holmes.

Holmes says the tribe worries that the air pollution released could have a detrimental health effect, especially on tribal members.

“Native Americans are 30% more susceptible to airborne particulates because of high incidence of diabetes. And so this might be one of the worst projects to locate near an indigenous population,” he said.

Governor Inslee’s policy advisor, Robert Duff, says the governor is committed to the State Environmental Policy Act and what he calls a rigorous permitting process to ensure environmental protection.

“I think it’s pretty clear the governor has been a state leader, a national leader, and even a world leader on climate change. I’m not sure anyone would argue with that," Duff said. "I think maybe the disconnect is we have to go through the process. If we don’t go through the process it will get challenged in court. I think we have a good process here, with the SEPA process and permitting."

Curt Holmes, the Kalispel tribal spokesman, also believes the air quality in the area is susceptible to inversions that can trap particulates for days until a weather pattern changes. He says the tribe would like to see a long term weather monitoring station set up at the location of the plant for a year to determine long term trends before the plant is permitted. The governor’s spokesman says his office is discussing that possibility with the Department of Ecology.

At this point, the company has made no formal permit requests.