State Ecology Division rejects allow for Kalama methanol plant on Columbia River


The state Division of Ecology has denied a request for a shoreline allow required to construct a $2 billion Kalama methanol plant that will export the chemical to China.

The allow rejection is a critical setback for a undertaking that will be one of many Pacific Northwest’s largest industrial customers of pure gasoline — the feedstock for methanol — and has generated intense controversy since first proposed again in 2014.

Critics have attacked the NW Innovation Works undertaking as a serious new supply of Pacific Northwest greenhouse gasoline emissions that will pollute for many years right into a future when the imperatives of local weather change name for chopping again such air pollution.

And Laura Watson, the director of the Ecology Division, cited greenhouse gasoline emissions from the plant as a purpose for rejecting the allow.

“I wish to be very clear {that a} undertaking that will improve greenhouse gasoline emissions by almost 5 million (metric) tons yearly wouldn’t profit the  surroundings…” Watson mentioned. “At most, this undertaking can be much less dangerous than potential options.”

The plant’s builders have mentioned the undertaking would assist displace coal-based methanol in China that produces much more carbon emissions per gallon of product, and thus can be a internet profit within the world battle to curb this air pollution.

A state research launched late final yr – primarily based on the work of three contractors – discovered a “excessive probability” that the undertaking would gradual the rise in world greenhouse gasoline emissions within the methanol trade. That financial savings might equal 5.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions – roughly the quantity produced by 1.28 million gasoline-powered automobiles.

That research was cited by builders as they reacted to the allow rejection. “Given the sturdy scientific findings and a number of critiques during the last six years, it’s obscure why the unique imaginative and prescient for each financial and environmental safety has been bypassed,” mentioned Vee Godley, chief growth officer for NW Innovation Works.

In interviews final yr, state officers solid doubt on these findings, saying the research’s findings had been primarily based on an evaluation of future markets that had been troublesome to foretell. Within the research, they famous the division’s dedication that the undertaking’s emissions are vital, a conclusion that’s required for a allow to be denied.

Watson additionally cited the uncertainty about how environmental and financial choices would impression methanol markets with leaving no different however to show down the allow.

She cited the understanding of what she termed “the extraordinarily massive” carbon footprint of the undertaking. State officers mentioned that the plant would emit almost 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions in state and 4.8 million metric tons globally, which would come with methane releases in the course of the manufacturing of pure gasoline.

The state Legislature has set a 2050 goal of getting solely 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gasoline emissions launched from the state, which might be down from almost 100 million metric tons of emissions in 2018.

The allow determination was celebrated by environmental teams. Brett VandenHeuvel, government director of Columbia Riverkeeper, applauded a choice he mentioned adopted “the science and the regulation.” Stephanie Hillman, Northwest consultant for the Sierra Membership, mentioned development of the plant made no sense amid a local weather emergency.

Officers on the Port of Kalama, the place the undertaking can be constructed, attacked the allow denial, and shall be consulting with a authorized crew to “consider subsequent steps.”

“It’s disheartening that after six years of strong professional evaluate …pointless obstacles ought to proceed to be raised… It’s troublesome to see the logic of this determination or the equitable software of state regulation,” mentioned Mark Wilson, the port’s government director.

The undertaking additionally has been dogged by questions on how the methanol shall be utilized in China.

Builders of the undertaking have mentioned the methanol can be used as a feedstock within the state’s chemical trade. However a slideshow presentation to potential buyers obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting — and proven as not too long ago as Jan. 2019 — indicated the methanol may be used as a gas for industries and transportation.

The state research took all potential makes use of of methanol under consideration when figuring out the undertaking’s potential for slowing the rise in world greenhouse gasoline emissions.

NW Innovation Works could have as much as 21 days to attraction the choice to disclaim the allow to the Shoreline Hearings Board, which consists of administrative regulation judges. If that attraction is unsuccessful, the allow determination additionally could possibly be challenged via a lawsuit.

The high-profile undertaking was as soon as embraced by Gov. Jay Inslee as a undertaking that might present a lift to the southwest Washington economic system and assist scale back world emissions. Then in Might 2019, the governor withdrew his on a day he signed a invoice banning fracking. In a written assertion, he mentioned, “I can’t in good conscience” help the methanol plant in addition to a Tacoma liquified pure gasoline undertaking as a result of they might not accomplish what is important to fight local weather change. He mentioned that the withdrawal of his help wouldn’t have an effect on the regulatory decision-making course of.

NW Innovation Works officers additionally face challenges in getting federal permits. In November, a U.S. District Courtroom choose in Tacoma struck down two Military Corps of Engineers permits as a result of they weren’t the results of a full evaluate of the impacts of greenhouse gasoline emissions.