Kalama methanol facility backers seek permit appeal, extension

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The company behind the proposed $2-billion methanol production facility are not giving up following a blow to their efforts, as they have filed both to appeal the decision from the state to deny one permit and to seek an extension on another permit previously issued.

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) has filed for both an extension on an expiring air discharge permit with the Southwest Clean Air Agency (SWCAA) and an appeal on a recent decision from the Washington State Department of Ecology to deny a shoreline conditional use permit for the project.

The project, which would use natural gas to produce methanol, had an existing air discharge permit that was set to expire March 4, according to the formal extension request notice. Originally approved by SWCAA in June 2017, the permit initially was set to expire in December 2018, though the agency granted an initial extension to 2021.

SWCAA gave notice of the extension request Feb. 23, though the formal filing from NWIW dates from late December. Should it be approved, the extension would run through Sept. 4, 2022.

“(I)t has been (NWIW’s) intention to promptly commence construction of the (methanol facility), but litigation and subsequent processes have prevented that from occurring,” NWIW President Vee Godley wrote in the company’s request. According to the SWCAA notice, the agency stated that permit extensions for other projects have been given for ones that have “demonstrated willingness and ability to commence” with the project, “but were delayed by events beyond their control,” including delays from obtaining permit approvals.

The notice added that guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency backed up that reasoning, and a second extension of the air permit could be given “if the request includes a re-analysis of permit requirements.”

Should the permit be extended, there would not be a change in previously-approved emission limits or permit conditions, according to SWCAA’s notice.

The methanol facility’s permit holdup comes from a number of factors, most recently in the denial of a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit from Ecology. In an announcement from the department in January, Ecology explained the denial was based on increases in greenhouse gas emissions the project would lead to, and inconsistencies the project had with the state’s Shoreline Management Act.

In its announcement of the denial Ecology stated that the project would run contrary to greenhouse gas emission limits set by recent state legislation. That decision followed additional study on potential greenhouse gas emissions project backers were made to do, the latest efforts they have had to take in a yearslong effort to get the project to begin construction.

Both NWIW and the Port of Kalama, who has also backed the facility, have appealed that decision to the state Shoreline Hearings Board. Following the filing of the appeal Feb. 9, Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the opponents to the facility being built, responded that they would be defending against the attempt to get the permit approved.

“Ecology made the right decision, and we will continue to protect the health and safety of our communities, our water, and our climate,” Sierra Club Northwest Campaign Representative and Power Past Fracked Gas Coalition Co-director Stephanie Hillman said in a release from Columbia Riverkeeper. “In the middle of a climate emergency, when we should be focused on moving toward a future free of fossil fuels, building the world's largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery makes no sense.”

The release stated that would likely have a trial before the Shoreline Hearings Board in the Summer of this year.

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