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Community Voices: Candidates' silence on methanol plant is deafening
Community Voices

Community Voices: Candidates' silence on methanol plant is deafening

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State senate candidates incumbent Dean Takko and Port of Longview commissioner Jeff Wilson declined answering a question about financing of Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) Kalama methanol refinery at a recent League of Women Voters forum. They deemed commenting on private financing inappropriate and noted the project is outside their 19th district. This is curious as both men have consistently promoted the NWIW project.

NWIW’s public funding requests are well known. They lobbied the legislature for tax breaks.

Port of Kalama repeatedly applied for millions in federal grants for the methanol dock and other project infrastructure. NWIW applied for a two-billion-dollar construction loan backed by the Department of Energy.

Cowlitz County, through the Economic Development Council, authorized a CARES Act pandemic relief loan to maintain eight jobs at Pan Pacific Energy, the Chinese owner of NWIW (which has no employees). PPE is registered as a foreign for-profit corporation with the Washington Secretary of State.

If public tax dollars are used to support private companies, elected officials and civic leaders should account for that money. This is especially incumbent on electeds who espouse less taxes and free market capitalism. Taxpayers should not be dragged into support of speculative private ventures.

Our civic leaders are elected under law to protect our rights as individuals and our shared commons from environmental harm. They are not the handmaidens of industry or economic progress.

The Washington Department of Ecology is specifically tasked by the State Environmental Protection Act to identify and analyze environmental impacts to inform regulation. Yet both Takko and Wilson have loudly berated Ecology for the long permitting process for NWIW.

How long the permitting process should take is relative to many factors. Most applications with sufficient information are speedily handled. How long a process is reasonable for the world’s largest methanol refinery promoted by a foreign shell company with no history in the methanol industry?

Northwest Innovation Works, since its inception as a limited liability company in January 2014, through opacity and insufficient facility and financial plans, raised serious challenges to evaluating the project for permitting necessary to safeguard the public. NWIW circumvented streamlined review through the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Environmental review was taken by the County and Port with no experience in petrochemical permitting.

Why, at the outset, in a community that once claimed title to the world’s largest sawmill, was this project not revealed as the world’s largest methanol refinery? I uncovered and publicized this fact in March 2016. Why no vetting of the company’s principals who lack petrochemical expertise? President Godley’s previous employment was with a piping subcontractor at a failed polysilicon project in Idaho.

Refinery plans have continually been revised from the conventional methanol process in the 2015 JARPA application to the untested ULE process in the 2016 EIS, from a 36 MW power request to 200 MW or more from the grid.

Godley explained switching to ULE to avoid expense in meeting air pollution regulations resulting from gas-generated power. Air pollution also seems a factor in another change, that vessels at berth would use shore power. This operation of the marine dock is not fully evaluated. Other questions from the shoreline permit process remain to be answered. Proponents say jobs are why they support NWIW, about 200 permanent jobs. NWIW says a lot, but their only contractual obligation is an average of 80 jobs per year in the Port of Kalama lease agreement.

NWIW claims they will be better for and improve the environment. By comparing themselves to coal-sourced methanol they choose the lowest standard. They also spin an economic fairy tale that NWIW methanol has a competitive edge because it is cleaner and cheaper than alternatives in the global market. NWIW ULE technology is almost 30 years old and has never been proved to meet low GHG emission claims at even a small-scale methanol refinery.

Environmentalists’ review of data find NWIW’s claims lacking veracity and their project unacceptably harmful to the environment. No environmental group supports Northwest Innovation Works. Environmentalists employ science to analyze and review data, not politics, not marketing, not economic speculating. Environmentalists have done their due diligence on NWIW. Our civic leaders have not, and we should be asking why not.

Diane L. Dick lives in Longview.

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