The time has come for the debate to end and to get started building the $2 billion methanol refinery.
For years, opponents of one sort of industrial project here have contended “we can do better.” This project fits that bill. It is the equivalent of a first-round draft choice for this community and the world.
It would give a huge economic boost to our community, which has seen dramatic reductions in industrial and high-wage employment over the last three decades, resulting in a well-documented rise in social problems and stressed government budgets.
Plant construction, said to need 1,000 workers, would mean our trades craftsmen would find work here and not have to sojourn far and wide, away from their families, to find jobs. A new generation of workers would benefit from the training that Northwest Innovation promises to provide its new, locally hired work force.
Despite the hysteria whipped up largely by outsiders, this plant will be clean and safe. It would release zero — yes, zero — water discharges into the Columbia River. Its air emissions would be comparatively minor. No explosions are going to blow away Kalama or other communities, as some critics have asserted.
The latest “cradle-to grave” environmental study shows the natural-gas-based Kalama refinery would have a profound reduction in global greenhouse gases by replacing methanol plants that use coal as a feedstock. In fact, according to the analysis, not building the plant would be far worse from a global warming standpoint than building it. And, even so, the company has promised to voluntarily eliminate or compensate for all its greenhouse emissions here in Washington.
How much better a corporate citizen do you want?
Northwest Innovation is not going to mar the face of Kalama. It won’t even be visible or audible from downtown. It is at a site that has been designated for industrial development for decades. It is not going to destroy anyone’s recreational opportunity.
And where is the opposition coming from? To be sure, the project has its local critics. But as Thursday night’s meeting suggests, a large share of the opponents are outsiders who don’t understand the depth of this county’s problems and couldn’t care less. We don’t see any willingness to sacrifice their consumer goods, commutes and other greenhouse-producing activities and products to save the planet. There is a certain arrogance in asking rural communities like ours to carry an unfair share of that burden.
Despite critics’ rhetoric and objections to fossil fuels, the world is not going to wean itself from them all at once. Gains in environmental protection come incrementally and are driven by a combination of regulation and economic self interest (as in a manufacturer adopting processes that are cleaner and also save money). The Northwest Innovation Works project is an example of both at work, and it could become a model for use across the planet.
When a community struggles economically, there is little interest in environmental protection. Despite its decades of hardship, our community certainly still values clean water, clean air, healthy forests and our legacy of natural beauty. But it also needs good jobs. It needs tax revenues. In their struggle to survive, impoverished communities often trash the environment just to survive. We’re not there yet, but remember that the county recently considered hiring a private waste hauler to increase revenues by importing garbage to the Headquarters Landfill? Is that what we want for economic development?
The Northwest Innovation project meets our needs for taxes, jobs and a healthy planet.
The company has satisfactorily answered every claim critics have raised against it. Many communities across the nation would love to have this project. If we reject it, what would we accept? And don’t expect Amazon, Microsoft or any other high-tech employer to come set up shop here. Chasing away Northwest Innovation would tell outsiders that Cowlitz County is just not open for business.
Not permitting it would be irresponsible. It would be difficult to do better.