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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. 

In a move that local methanol supporters called “hypocritical,” the Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to ask state agencies to deny permits for the $1.8 billion Kalama project.

The request, which also appealed to the state to kill the Vancouver oil-by-rail terminal project, was part of a nationwide reaction to President Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord.

Local methanol supporters said Seattle should focus on its own industries with high emissions, such as Boeing and Amazon, and keep its nose out of economically struggling Cowlitz County, where the April unemployment rate was more than double King County’s, at 2.8 percent.

“Boeing … not necessarily the plant itself, but what they produce, creates more pollution than anything that we could ever license in our wildest dreams in Cowlitz County,” Longview’s Brian Magnuson, a member of the pro-methanol Citizens for a Green Economy, said Monday.

Seattle Councilman Mike O’Brien argues the Southwest Washington projects would boost the state’s contribution to climate change, thus are legitmate statewide concerns. His resolution includes several citywide measures to combat climate change, too.

“From a climate perspective, Seattle is ... hopefully going to do more than its part to reduce our emissions to meet the Paris Accord and frankly (keep) climate destruction below catastrophic levels,” O’Brien said by phone Wednesday. “Our work is only going to be successful if it’s in conjunction with dozens and hundreds of other cities and jurisdictions.”

The resolution also urges Puget Sound Energy to close a coal-fired power plant in Montana and asks British Columbia, Canada, to halt the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion.

Northwest Innovations Works’ proposed methanol plant at the Port of Kalama would release 1.24 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, raising the state’s total emissions by 1.24 percent. However, the state Department of Ecology is requiring Northwest Innovation to reduce emissions by 1.7 percent annually until 2035. The project would generate 192 permanent jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and millions of dollars in local and state taxes.

Methanol opponents say, though, that the state should look at other ways to create green jobs in rural Washington instead of relying on the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s not without serious consideration that we think about weighing in on another jurisdiction that’s trying to bring jobs,” O’Brien said. “What we don’t want to do is to start whole new generations of people (working) in communities that are totally tied to those fossil fuel companies.”

Methanol proponents say the project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally by replacing coal-based methanol with natural gas-based methanol. New manufacturing techniques at the plant would curb emissions.

“We have to understand that, number one, the plant is going to create methanol that is much cleaner and, number two, it’s used in the products that we have in our homes and vehicles. So are we saying that don’t want those anymore?” Magnuson asked.

Ted Sprague, president of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, encouraged Seattle leaders to concern themselves with their own city.

“What is the City Council doing to cut down on idling cars? I would like to see Seattle City Council focus on those issues,” Sprague said.

Local methanol opponents applauded the city for throwing its influence into efforts to halt the project.

“I don’t look it as an invasion of the Seattle City Council … (which is) standing against air pollution,” said Gary Wallace of Kalama, president of the local environmentalist group Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community. “There is no singular air shed captured in one area and only breathed in one area, it’s a global.”

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