The proposed $1.8 billion methanol refinery in Kalama received another blow to its progress as a state hearings board rescinded the decision to allow the NW Innovations Works project two key permits it needs to start work.
The Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board announced its decision on Sept. 15 with parties receiving the news the following Monday. In its ruling the board explained that the reversal of the permits was due to a flawed final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that did not account for greenhouse gas emissions outside of the plant’s direct production.
“Contrary to NWIW and the port's assertions, the Final EIS lacks sufficient analysis and information regarding how it reached a no significant impact conclusion without relying on Ecology's guidance,” the ruling read, referencing the “Guidance for Ecology: Including Greenhouse Gas Emissions in SEPA Reviews” that was used in preparation of the EIS.
The ruling explained that the matter was remanded to Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama “for further SEPA analysis consistent with this opinion.”
The judgment comes as a result of a joint appeal among Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, environmentalist groups who argued claims were wrong that the project would not be a significant producer of greenhouse gases.
Chief among the concerns of the environmentalist groups was the more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide estimated to be produced annually, as well as those produced outside of the facility in the process of manufacturing and transport.
“You can’t build a massive fossil fuel project like this and pretend that the impacts end at the property line,” Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews stated in a news release. “The public deserves to know the climate impacts of fracked gas, from the wellhead to the pipelines to refinery, all the way to the export to Asia.”
A statement released by the Cowlitz County Commissioners addressed the development, mentioning specifically the issue with reliance of the guidance document.
“County staff adhered to the only GHG guidance available, absent any other guidance or input to the contrary,” the commissioners’ statement read. “We support the quality work completed by our staff, the Port of Kalama and the team of expert consultants who collaboratively completed this complex environmental review and we are disappointed in the decision made by the Shoreline Hearings Board.”
“The county remains committed to working collaboratively with our partners at the Port of Kalama to complete the permitting process and bring this important project to Cowlitz County,” the statement read.
The proposed facility is the project of NW Innovation Works, a company with backing from the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences. NW Innovation Works President Vee Godley issued a statement expressing his disappointment over the decision, specifically mentioning that the project used was appropriate.
“While Ecology has indicated that it is in the process or reviewing and updating that guidance, the existing guidance document remains the only guidance in Washington for how an EIS should evaluate greenhouse gas impacts, and Ecology’s website continues to direct state and local governments to use this guidance,” Godley’s statement read.
Shoreline permitting for the project were initially approved in early June, and the joint environmentalist appeal followed later that month. The project would refine methane gas into methanol for use in plastics manufacturing in China.