The women and men of the labor movement are committed to growing our economy in an environmentally responsible way. That’s why we join in coalition with others in the environmental and progressive communities to promote solutions that protect our environment and create and maintain quality, family-sustaining jobs.
We work to meet the needs of our people and our economy by confronting climate change. That’s why we supported enacting zero-carbon electricity standards in the last Legislative session.
And it’s why we support Northwest Innovation Works’ (NWIW) proposed methanol manufacturing facility in Kalama.
To address the threat of climate change, we need accountability rooted in responsibility and a focus on sustainable development that protects our environment.
NWIW’s facility meets these tests.
The newly published Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) sets a new standard by providing cradle-to-grave accounting of all emissions associated with the project.
By displacing coal-based production in China, NWIW’s facility would reduce up to 12.6 million tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions annually. That’s a greater reduction than closing the region’s remaining coal-fired energy facilities and Sound Transit’s ST3 ballot measure combined.
NWIW will mitigate 100% of all project emissions within Washington — including those outside their control and operations. And the Department of Ecology has embedded the “Clean Air Rule” directly into the company’s permit, making it the only business we are aware of that’s required to reduce its emissions under the rule.
By using the methanol it produces for materials production for things like computers, cars, textiles and medical equipment — instead of fuel — all the carbon associated with the facility’s methanol will be sequestered in the things we all use every day. Over time, this materials pathway can help facilitate investment in renewable natural gas and other bio-based alternatives.
NW Innovation Works is setting the standard for environmental protection. NWIW will be the first facility along the Columbia River implementing zero liquid discharge technology — eliminating all wastewater discharge.
And it’s not just about protecting the planet. NWIW is designing the facility to protect the people who will work and for those who would live near it.
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NWIW will create desperately needed jobs in Cowlitz County, one of the most economically challenged communities in Western Washington. With higher average unemployment, lower wages, lower labor participation rates, and the struggles that come with these statistics, Cowlitz County needs the jobs.
Frankly, we’ve been disappointed that the promise of union jobs in the green economy has not been fully realized, particularly in southwest Washington.
NWIW is committed to promoting economic justice and work with dignity. NWIW has a project labor agreement with the construction trades and has agreed to collaborate with local education and workforce programs to train and hire employees from the community. NWIW will pay both tuition and a living stipend for students in the program. It is also worth noting that NWIW has not asked for any special tax provisions or treatment and has committed to not do so in the future.
Some of our friends in the environmental community oppose this project. They say that no project that employs a fossil feedstock could meet our urgent need to confront climate change. In this case, they’re wrong.
Opponents also make invalid claims that the project should be rejected because methanol from this facility could be used as a fuel, rather than for materials production. These claims are built on purposeful speculation, not facts. The facts are that safeguards have been built in by regulators to avoid confusion and constrain methanol to a materials pathway, and contractual commitments by the company ensure that. Importantly, Washington state regulators in 2014 reviewed this question at the request of project opponents and determined that the Kalama facility is dedicated to materials production and not an “energy plant.”
By accounting for all GHG emissions associated with the project, taking responsibility for mitigating 100% of their impacts, reducing those impacts over time, and displacing far dirtier and dangerous ways of producing the goods we all rely on, NWIW is an example of what’s possible when we commit to solving problems together.
The people of Cowlitz County, our region and our planet can’t wait for solutions to come from Washington, D.C., Olympia, Paris or anywhere else. Those efforts are all important, but they are not enough. We need to take responsibility now. We need to raise the bar and take the lead. Time is of the essence.
We hope our friends in the environmental community will join us in seizing this moment to set a new standard and make a meaningful difference, not just for our state, but for our entire global community. Let’s get to work.
Larry Brown is president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which represents the interests of 550,000 union members in the state.
Mike Bridges is president of the Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council and is a Business Representative for IBEW Local 48.
Mark Riker is the executive secretary of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, which acts on behalf of affiliate labor organizations to improve working conditions for their members and all of Washington’s workers.