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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. 

Cowlitz County officials blasted the state Department of Ecology on Monday for holding the proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol refinery to a higher standard than other projects and for asking for information the agency has already been given.

“I also find it troubling that the level of review now superimposed on this project is inconsistent with how Ecology has addressed greenhouse gas mitigation within other, recent projects with Ecology,” Elaine Placido, the county’s community services director, said in the letter sent to Ecology on Monday.

The letter is a response to a Oct. 9 request from Ecology for more information about the plant’s potential impact on global climate change before the agency makes a make-or-break decision on a shoreline permit for the project. Placido said she is “disappointed” by Ecology’s demands for more information, saying it sometimes exceeds what state environmental rules require or consists of information that already has been provided to the agency.

Northwest Innovation Works wants to build the plant at the Port of Kalama to convert natural gas into methanol for shipment to China for use in plastics manufacturing.

Ecology asked for specific details on Northwest Innovation’s proposed plan to offset the project’s in-state greenhouse gas emissions and an analysis of the project’s global and in-state greenhouse gas emissions.

The offset plans were included in an environmental impact study released in August, but Ecology wanted more details. In her letter, Placido wrote that the county and Ecology had agreed to would work out further details once the shorelines permit process was completed.

On Oct. 9, Ecology also asked the company to further explain the environmental study’s conclusion that the plant would displace coal-based methanol facilities. The department additionally requested an analysis of the affects of using methanol as a fuel, something opponents to the project have voiced concerns about.

Kent Caputo, NWIW general counsel, said there has been “confusion,” but the company has been consistent about the intended use of methanol for plastic manufacturing.

Placido says the August study already addresses Ecology’s concerns. “This ...raises concerns whether Ecology undertook a thorough and adequate review of the information provided by the county before tendering its (Oct. 9) letter,” Placido wrote.

She notes the county is disappointed with Ecology’s request because the agencies met repeatedly to discuss the topics which Ecology asked for more information about.

The county is the review agency for the methanol project and has twice approved a shorelines permit for the project. Ecology now has to either affirm that decision, reject it or approve it with conditions.

Once Ecology reviews the information and if it finds the application complete, it will notify the applicants, said Jeff Zenk, Ecology spokesman. The department will then have 30 days to make a decision.

Northwest first proposed the project in 2014, pitching it as a way to combat global climate change by displacing coal-based methanol production in China. The August report on the plant’s greenhouse emissions said the project would cause a net annual net reduction global greenhouse gas emissions of 13 million tons. That’s about 12 percent of the carbon produced annually by all the cars, factories and other sources in Washington.

Columbia Riverkeeper said in a statement Monday the plant would lock the state into decades of fossil fuel use when the state is trying to move toward clean energy. It claims the August study, conducted by a consultant, is based on outdated information.

“For five years, NWIW has tried to deceive the public and regulatory agencies about the purpose and impact of building the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery on the shores of the Columbia River. Washington’s Department of Ecology has repeatedly asked for basic information, and NWIW has once again refused to provide a complete, thorough response.”

Since it was first proposed nearly six years ago, the project has drawn praise and criticism statewide, and the debate is still raging as a decision time approaches.

For example, the Seattle Times ran a pair of editorials Monday from the project’s supporters and opponents (they are attached to the online version of this story with permission from the Times). Mike Bridges, president of Kelso/Longview Building and Construction Trades Council, was one of the writers of the commentary supporting the plant.

Proponents said the project would create about 1,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs and generate millions of dollars in local taxes. Northwest Innovations also committed to hiring Longview contractor JH Kelly to build parts of the plant and to use local union labor.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who supported the project in its early days, announced his opposition to it in May.

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