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Methanol plant site

Northwest Innovation Works $2 billion methanol plant would be built at the north end of the Port of Kalama. 

A day after Northwest Innovation Works pitched its proposed Kalama methanol plant as environmentally friendly, opposition attorneys Tuesday argued that it would be a big source of greenhouse gas emissions and challenged its compliance with the state Shorelines Management Act.

Northwest Innovation needs two shorelines permits for the $1.8 billion project, which underwent scrutiny Tuesday during the second of three days of public hearings on the permit application. Tuesday’s testimony included statements from opponents such as the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and proponents such as former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.

The hearing is scheduled to end Wednesday.

Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmier is expected to make a decision on whether to approve the permits within a few weeks. His ruling must be reviewed by the Ecology, which then would issue the final decision.

The plant would convert natural gas into methanol, which would be shipped to Asia for use in plastics production.

Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin argued the plant would interfere with the public’s access to the Columbia River shoreline, particularly because of steam plumes and emissions releases during start up and shut down periods.

“It would be unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst to recreate when those emissions are taking place,” Goodin said. Goodin said the proponent’s plans to build an access road and parking lot to increase public access to the shoreline isn’t sufficient.

“Simply providing a parking lot doesn’t explain away these other impacts,” she said.

Miles Johnson, attorney for Hood River-based Columbia Riverkeeper, added, “Who is going to want to go for a stroll on the Columbia or go fishing or take their family for a picnic in the shadow of a 90-acre petrochemical (plant) ?”

Johnson argued that the parking lot would take up more of the shoreline, introduce new impervious surfaces and affect one of the few areas of riparian habitat on site.

“It’s not clear that this isn’t going to do more harm than good for citizen’s ability to enjoy the natural area of the shoreline,” Johnson said.

Although Scheibmier said it was a “gray area” whether greenhouse gas emissions can be regulated under the state shoreline act, opponents argued that they should be because they are causing climate change that will directly affect the shorelines.

Northwest Innovation Works has argued that its project would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal-based methanol with natural gas based methanol. But Goodin said the project proponents have been unable to prove their plant would replace coal-to-methanol plants.

“It’s important to know that these (climate change) impacts won’t just be felt at the project site. All of the shorelines of the state will be harmed. Protecting the state’s shorelines means doing everything we can to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and that means drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately this project will move us fast in the absolute opposite direction,” Goodin said.

According to the final environmental impact study of the proposed plant, the facility would release 1.25 million to 1.53 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or the equivalent emissions of 250,000 to 325,000 cars.

But former Gov. Gary Locke, who serves on an advisory board for Northwest Innovation Works and is a former U.S. ambassador to China, said the project is vital to improving air quality in China by reducing the country’s reliance on coal.

“The people that are concerned about this project wear outdoor gear made by Helly Hansen, or Under Armour and Gore-Tex or Nike. Those are all made of plastics, synthetic and olefins produced by methanol,” Locke said. “China needs to move away from the use of coal, and that’s why this project is so important because it is supplying that methanol which is used in the manufacturing of plastics and garments that we use every single day. By using a solution that is less damaging to the environment, yes it still produces greenhouse gases, but it is significantly less than the current technology.”

Locke and other proponents also pointed to the project’s economic benefits. The methanol plant would add 192 permanent jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and millions in tax revenue.

In a 10-minute presentation, Ted Sprague, executive director of Cowlitz Economic Development Council, painted a bleak picture of the county’s economic downtown and urged approval of the project.

“Job loss, housing stagnation and decreased wages (in Cowlitz) results in many (societal) ills. We have witnessed an increase in homelessness, drug addiction and most of all, poverty,” Sprague said. “To reverse these alarming trends, we desperately need the construction and fulltime jobs that NWIW project will bring to Cowlitz County.”

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