No methanol

Signs protesting a proposed methanol plant in Kalama are seen in front of an empty storefront in downtown Kalama in 2018. 

While the company behind the nearly $2 billion plan for a methanol plant in Kalama is heralding a recent document’s determination on environmental impacts as justification to move forward, an environmental watchdog group maintains the plant would be a net negative for preserving climate.

The Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County Building and Planning released a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Kalama Manufacturing and Marine Export Facility Aug. 30. The report was a response to a determination by the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board in 2017 that additional analysis of the greenhouse gas impact the project would have was needed before it could move forward.

According to Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), the company behind the project, the results of the study are good news, something that “sets a new standard in the State of Washington for evaluating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, highlighting the key role NWIW will play in confronting climate change,” per a news release from the company.

“The science and facts laid out today make a clear and convincing case that our project in Kalama will result in a significant net reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions,” NWIW Chief Development Officer Vee Godley said in the release. “Regulators called for a comprehensive review of our actual and potential emissions, and this independent analysis delivers those results.”

In an analysis that NWIW said examined plant construction, operations, and broader environmental impacts, the project was estimated to reduce global GHG emissions by at least 10.63 million metric tons per year.

“We are pleased comments and questions posed by the public, critics, various organizations, and governments were rigorously addressed,” NWIW General Counsel Kent Caputo said in the release. “If your goal is to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, you want this facility to be built.” 

“This document details our agreement with regulators to offset 100% of our in-state GHG emissions, even those not directly tied to our operations and without any subsidies,” NWIW CEO Simon Zhang said in the release. “We are setting unprecedented new standards in both policy and industrial production. Nobody has ever done that at this scale.”

The study looked at GHG emissions from a variety of sources through the project’s life-cycle, including its construction, direct emissions, those from purchased power, shipping of the product overseas and the potential for the methanol to be used as fuel, according to NWIW’s release. It also identified potential mitigation of those impacts.

Though the company behind the project spoke positively of the analysis, Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmentally-focused advocacy group, was less optimistic. In its own release, the organization stated that the report “dramatically downplays the climate impacts of the proposed refinery.”

“The report released today is dramatically misleading,” Columbia Riverkeeper Conservation Director Dan Serres said in the release. “The EIS dodges the refinery’s greenhouse gas impacts by relying on cherry-picked studies, outdated information, and deceiving the public and regulators about the use of the methanol.”

“Whether for fuel or for plastic, NWIW’s project will have a tremendously negative impact on the river and our climate,” Serres stated.

Columbia Riverkeeper stated that the proposed project would require a new pipeline for natural gas in order to function. Should the project move forward it would become Washington’s largest GHG source by 2025, according to Columbia Riverkeeper’s release.

The organization noted that comments submitted by the state Department of Ecology late last year noted “a number of deficiencies” on a draft of the study, including failure to “sufficiently and accurately study a mitigation package, production alternatives, or the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the project.” Columbia Riverkeeper also pointed out leaked documents to investors that implied the project would produce methanol to burn as fuel.

“Ignoring the massive impact this refinery would have on our climate won’t make it go away,” said Sierra Club Washington State Chapter Cecile Gernez in the release. “Northwest Innovation Works wants to sell this massive fracked gas project as somehow good for the climate, but we’re not buying it.” 

Locals were also quoted in the release stating their opposition to the project.

“Northwest Innovation Works has tried to mislead our community for over 5 years,” Cambria Keely, a teenage activist and Kalama resident stated. “They told their investors that the methanol would be used for fuel, which completely changes the environmental impacts from what our agencies were told, which is that the methanol will solely be used for plastic production.”

“Any company that feels comfortable lying to get what they want is not a company which is welcome in Kalama,” Keely said. 

The Department of Ecology will review the study before making a determination if the project can move forward.

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