No methanol

Signs protesting a proposed methanol plant in Kalama are seen in front of an empty storefront in downtown Kalama earlier this year. 

More than a dozen environmentally-minded organizations have come out in opposition to a proposed methanol production plant in Kalama as part of thousands of comments regarding the project following the issuance of an additional environmental study.

A release from the Center for Biological Diversity announced the submission of the letter, signed on by 16 different agencies, late last month. Along with the center, the letter was signed by Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. 

In a statement following the study’s release, Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), the company looking to bring the plant to Kalama, lauded the full lifecycle analysis of the proposal’s production with regard to greenhouse gases — something the SEIS found would result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 9.7 to 12.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, given that it would displace similar methanol facilities that use coal.

The opposing groups take issue with several claims regarding climate impacts made in the study. Chief concerns regarded the potential for leakage of methane — the feedstock used to produce methanol — the source of that methane, and the time frame used when projecting the climate impact of methane gas.

A major focus detailed in the announcement was on “highly speculative assumptions” regarding the market for methanol worldwide, the basis of which was used in determining net reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. The groups point to an April 2017 article in China Daily, a state-run newspaper in China, where the chairman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings Corporation, which has stake in Northwest Innovation Works, spoke about the use of methanol as a cleaner fuel in automobiles. Project proponents stateside have stated the methanol would be used to produce olefins, compounds used in plastics production among other uses.

The groups called for an eventual denial of the environmental review once it makes its way to the Department of Ecology for final approval.

“It’s appalling that we’re even still considering this disaster of a project,” Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity said in the announcement. “This dirty refinery would harm communities and wildlife along the Columbia River and fuel the climate catastrophe Washington is supposed to help curb, not escalate.”

Following the close of the comment period Dec. 28 now the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County will work on a final review, taking into account those comments. The review must be approved by the Department of Ecology before the project can move forward.

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