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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. 

The proposed Kalama methanol plant took another step forward Wednesday after Cowlitz County affirmed that the project should get the shoreline permits as previously granted, according to a county letter to the state Department of Ecology.

The county Department of Building and Planning reviewed the shoreline permits under the recently released greenhouse gas emission study to determine if any changes were needed. Ecology now has 30 days to review the permits, said Jeff Zenk, Ecology spokesman.

Zenk said Ecology can approve; approve with conditions; or deny the permits. If the department asks for additional information, it would be a “time out” on the 30-day deadline, he said.

Kent Caputo, NWIW general counsel, said the company is “very pleased” that the county has finished its review and is looking forward to working with Ecology.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done,” he said. “We appreciate this is an evolving policy and regulatory area and that we have to be intellectually nimble and respect that these regulators have important work to do.”

The permit is the last significant clearance the project needs, but environmental groups say they will challenge approval of the permit.

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) hopes to build the $2 billion project at the Port of Kalama to convert natural gas into methanol for shipment to Asia, where the company says it would be used for plastics production. The project would create about 1,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs and generate millions of dollars in local taxes, according to NWIW.

It was first proposed in 2014 and has undergone a marathon public review.

About one year ago, Cowlitz Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning overruled the state Shoreline Hearings Board’s September 2017 decision to invalidate the two shoreline permits that county regulators had previously granted. The permits have been on hold until completion of the “cradle to grave” analysis of the plant’s potential to affect climate change.

NWIW paid Life Cycle Associates “six figures” to complete the analysis. The final draft of the study was released Aug. 30. The plant would be the 12th largest emitter in the state. However, the study found the refinery would cause a substantial net decrease of global carbon emissions by displacing coal-based methanol production in Asia.

Citing the study, county building and planning officials told Ecology that the project wouldn’t have any “significant unavoidable adverse impacts.”

NWIW also agreed to offset all in-state greenhouse gas emissions related to the project. The county’s letter said the company’s program goes beyond the emission reduction requirements of the shoreline conditional use permit.

Columbia Riverkeeper, Hood River, Ore. environmental organization, stated the study downplays the plant’s effect on the climate.

“We’re confident that the Department of Ecology will take a serious look at the greenhouse gas impacts,” Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel said. “It’s hard to imagine how such a polluting fossil fuel refinery could pass Washington’s test.”

If Ecology approves the permits, Riverkeeper will likely appeal that decision, he said.

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