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Methanol plant site

The Department of Ecology has rejected Northwest Innovation Works' climate change study, delaying the project by as much as a year.

In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sen. Dean Takko Wednesday blasted the state Department of Ecology over its decision to delay approval of a key permit for the proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol project.

“The department’s decision is a cowardly swipe at our ambition to bring prosperity back to Southwest Washington,” Takko’s letter says.

“Beleaguering this project despite its overwhelming practical and environmental benefits sends a clear message that the needs of the people of Southwest Washington are not a concern for your administration,” he said.

The letter was released to the press late Wednesday afternoon, making it too late for obtain immediate comment from the governor’s office before Thanksgiving. The governor made battling climate change the centerpiece of his failed campaign for president. An Ecology spokesman said the department received the letter late Wednesday and hasn’t had a chance to review it so the agency “can’t comment further.”

Ecology announced Nov. 22 it will perform a new environmental study of the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions, calling the study that Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama submitted early this month insufficient. The process could take up to a year, adding to five years the project has been undergoing environmental review.

Ecology’s decision is holding up a shorelines permit, the last major remaining clearance the project needs.

Environmental groups applauded the decision as a way to hold Northwest Innovation Works “accountable to the plant’s potential impact.” Columbia Riverkeeper said the port/county analysis relies on “dubious claim that (the plant) is going to replace dirtier methanol made from coal.”

Takko, a Longview Democrat, said he was “dismayed” by the way Ecology has managed the permitting process for the plant, which the company says will create 1,000 construction jobs, nearly 200 permanent jobs and generate millions in tax revenues. Takko said Inslee’s decision to reverse his earlier support for the project was a “blow to me and the people of my district.”

Northwest Innovation Works wants to build the methanol refinery on leased land at the Port of Kalama. It would convert natural gas into methanol that the company says would be shipped for Asia for use in plastics production. It would be one of the world’s largest methanol refineries.

The project has had widespread support from local officials and local construction trades unions. And in a Port of Kalama commissioner general election race that was a de facto referendum on the project, incumbent commissioner Alan Basso easily beat challenger Gary Wallace, an outspoken critic of the plant.

The results of the port race should “dispel claims of local opposition,” Takko said.

Takko said it’s “outrageous” a project that will make a “significant contribution to addressing climate change while bringing powerful economic benefits to a struggling region would be treated with disregard” by Ecology.

Northwest Innovation Works has pledged to offset all its in-state greenhouse gas emissions, and the climate change analysis submitted earlier this month concluded that the Kalama project would reduce global emissions by at least 10 million metric tons per year, or the equivalent of about 2 million cars.

“How is NWIW, or any another company contemplating a project in Southwest Washington supposed to trust the state to treat them fairly?” Takko said. “It compounds the difficulties of the people I represent who fear yet another opportunity for a brighter economic future is slipping away.”

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