Methanol hearing

Friends and foes of Northwest Innovation Works' proposed Kalama methanol plant wait their turn to speak at one of many public hearings on the subject.

Will Gov. Jay Inslee’s newfound opposition to the $2 billion proposed Kalama methanol plant kill the project?

No, according to the company and local officials. But the future of the project will remain murky at least for a few more months.

The Washington governor Wednesday afternoon announced his opposition to the Kalama project and a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma after signing a bill banning hydraulic fracking for oil and gas. He’d endorsed the methanol project shortly after it was proposed in 2014, but he said Wednesday the project runs counter to what is needed to combat global climate change.

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) hopes to build at the Port of Kalama to convert natural gas into methanol for shipment to Asia, where the company says it would be used in production of plastics.

Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said Thursday it is “disappointing” Inslee changed his stance on the project, but he is glad the governor didn’t order Ecology to stop the permitting process. Weber said Inslee’s campaign for U.S. president, in which he is advocating action to curb carbon emissions and halt global climate change, “colors most of his decisions.”

Inslee said in his statement that his stance does not change the state’s regulatory process.

Vee Godley, chief development officer for Northwest Innovation, said Inslee’s announcement doesn’t affect the next steps for the project.

“At the end of the day, this is still a project that’s received every permit required by the state,” Godley said.

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. However, the permits are on hold until completion of a “cradle to grave” analysis of the plant’s potential to affect climate change.

A draft of the study released last fall said it would help lower global greenhouse emissions by displacing coal-fed methanol plants in Asia.

NWIW paid California-based Life Cycle Associates to complete the study after the state Shoreline Hearings Board concluded the original analysis inadequately considered the global impact of carbon emissions.

Kent Caputo, NWIW general counsel, said once the final supplemental study is released, Cowlitz County and Ecology will review it and determine “what if any” changes will be made with the permits. The company is optimistic the project will move forward, he said.

“Our confidence is high,” Caputo said. “What this project is doing is cutting edge and important.”

According to environmental studies, the Kalama plant would not release any water pollution and would have minor impacts on air quality. NWIW has pledged to compensate for all 1.1 million tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions in Washington.

The plant, according to the company, would create about 1,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs and generate millions of dollars in local taxes. NWIW also has committed to hiring Longview contractor JH Kelly to build major parts of the plant and pledged to create a jobs training program.

Caputo said if the county or Ecology shot down the permits or came back with requirements for NWIW, they would continue to move forward with the project. Godley declined to be specific, but he said the company has invested “tens of millions of dollars” in the project.

“We are committed to this project,” Caputo said. “As the process continues, we will be a part of that process. This project is important. We know we have to continue to prove ourselves. ... (But) this is a good piece of work.”

Even though Inslee said the state’s review of the methanol project will remain objective, his concerns about natural gas are shared by officials in the state Department of Ecology, which is one of the agency’s making the permitting decisions, notes Miles Johnson, attorney for Hood River, Ore.-based Columbia Riverkeeper.

Johnson said the as the process moves forward, the organization is excited to see the results of the final greenhouse gas study. Riverkeeper has opposed the project since its 2014 beginnings.

“We hope (the study) will allow the port and county to come forward and have an honest assessment of what the climate impacts will be,” Johnson said. “If not, it’s likely we will appeal that like we did before.”

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