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Community voices: Methanol ruling was wrongheaded

Community voices: Methanol ruling was wrongheaded

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The administration of Gov. Jay Inslee has proven once again that it cares little for rural Washington.

Last week, after more than seven years and multiple studies, the Department of Ecology rejected a state shorelines permit for the $2 billion Kalama methanol plant. The project could have created more than 1,000 construction jobs, 200 permanent direct jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues for state and local governments.

Without the permit, the project is dead. Here’s hoping that the proponent, Northwest Innovation Works, can win an appeal to the state Shorelines Hearings Board. Don’t hold your breath.

In its decision, Ecology cited the plant’s potential to contribute to global climate change. Don't get me wrong. Despite the reckless assertions of our recently departed president, climate change is a real, critical problem with a host of manifestations, including more violent weather, coastal flooding, the extinction of species and threats to the food chain and basic webs of life on our planet.

However, study after study concluded that the Kalama plant would cause a net-decrease in global emissions by discouraging more carbon-emitting alternative means of methanol production. The state’s own study, published last year, concluded that the Northwest Innovations project could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 to 6 million metric tons per year. The plant, which would convert natural gas to methanol for use in plastics manufacturing — would produce about 1 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses in-state — making it one of Washington’s top 10 emitters. Yet the company has pledged to take steps to reduce those emissions, too.

I agree that “offset” analyses are somewhat speculative and imprecise. Yet they all point in the same direction: The plant would have a positive net effect on the amount of carbon dioxide spewed into the planet’s atmosphere. Given that, the Kalama project would be a win for the environment and the local economy. (Remember that carbon dioxide is naturally occurring and not a pollutant in the strict sense. You breathe many pounds of it every day. But too much in the atmosphere is trapping heat.)

The state’s rejection of the project is bad enough. Yet, in addition, the way the state has handled this project has been even more deplorable.

Its rejection came seven years almost to the day that the company unveiled its proposal in January 2014. Not content with early studies that conflicted with its biases, the Inslee administration ordered new ones.

The governor expressed early support for the project, then backtracked because it appeared to conflict with his presidential campaign, which focused on combatting global climate change.

Further, there’s a measure of unfairness here: No one in the state asks how Starbucks, Home Depot, Safeway or other retailers and manufacturers contribute to climate change by the using millions of tons of plastic packaging and containers.

So I ask: What major prospective employer would want to subject themselves to such an arbitrary and biased review process? The decision will no doubt be a big blow to Cowlitz County’s efforts to recruit new employers to the region.

Rejecting the methanol plant is further proof of Inslee’s indifference to rural areas of the state, and that indifference is spelling trouble for Democrats at the ballot box. Inslee lost 30 of 39 counties in the November general election, most by big margins. He won only two counties from outside the Puget Sound region. Republican challenger Loren Culp outpolled him by a 2-to-1 ratio in Cowlitz County, and Culp was a deeply flawed and unqualified candidate. Could the GOP have won had it nominated a better, more moderate person? Rural Southwest Washington, formerly a Democratic stronghold, now is dyed red.

I supported Inslee last fall because he handled the pandemic well given the many unknowns about the virus and the hysteria fomented by opponents of his social distancing orders (though he is botching the vaccine rollout). But the governor is the party’s state leader, and if he continues to give a cold shoulder to the state’s rural areas, the electoral trend will continue. I doubt Inslee will seek a record fourth term in 2024, but whoever seeks to replace him could pay the price for wrongheaded decisions like this one. He had a chance to show our citizens he cares for them as much he does for Puget Sounders, but he blew it.

Andre Stepankowsky is former city editor of The Daily News.


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