Port of Kalama announces end of lease for proposed methanol facility

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Rick Bannan/[email protected]

The proposed $ 2 billion methanol production facility in Kalama is likely running out of gas as the city’s port has said project backers are ending their lease.

On June 11, the Port of Kalama announced that it had received news from Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), which planned to terminate the lease of the port property. In a statement from NWIW itself, the company said the denial of a key permit by the Washington State Department of Ecology was the reason for its decision, saying the regulations had “become unclear and unpredictable. “.

The NWIW statement said the company would “procrastinate its development activities to assess the new regulatory and policy landscape and determine an appropriate way forward.”

The company – which planned to build a facility that would produce methanol from methane that project proponents said would be used for plastic manufacturing in China – said it would “remain committed to tackling the global climate challenge.” , while creating economic growth, and would continue to develop on net zero pollution projects.

In its own statement, the Port of Kalama said the decision to end the lease effectively ended efforts to develop the plant. The port said the benefits of the project would have included 1,400 constructions and 200 permanent jobs, millions in tax revenue and a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions through the manufacture of methanol from natural gas rather than coal.

Port officials stressed that the state’s regulatory and political environment was an obstacle to the project which would have brought “local and sustainable jobs when the need is greatest.”

“It was the kind of innovative, job-creating project that was originally supported by the governor’s office. Jay Inslee stood on the Kalama waterfront to tout the climate benefits of the project and then turned on us when he ran for president, ”said Kalama Port Manager Mark Wilson, in the port press release.

Inslee finally turned the corner by supporting the factory in 2019.

“At the start of (Project Kalama), I said they could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we move to cleaner energy sources,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. back then, “but I’m no longer convinced that locking in these multi-decade infrastructure projects are enough to accomplish what’s needed.

First announced in 2014, the facility has been facing permit issues for years, with Ecology’s January 19 decision to deny a conditional shoreline use permit for the project being the last straw for donors. project funds. The department said that if built, the facility had the potential to prevent Washington from meeting greenhouse gas emission limits set by the state legislature last year and could have used external compensations for its mitigation plans.

The proposed facility is said to be linked to 4.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, according to Ecology’s analysis, most of which relate to activities outside of the operation of the plant itself, including including the extraction of methane for use in the production of the plant, as well as the uses of methanol. in Asia. The ministry noted that although the facility has the potential to have lower greenhouse gas emissions than other sources of methanol, “building the new facility would not actually reduce emissions.”

“The known and verifiable emissions from the facility would be extremely significant and their effects on Washington’s environment would be significant and detrimental,” wrote ecology director Laura Watson in a statement included in the announcement of the permit denial. .

“All the state has accomplished is to encourage tougher greenhouse gas emissions outside Washington’s borders and declare a false climate victory,” Wilson said in the port statement. The port said the project had been the subject of an “unprecedented round of environmental studies.” The January denial followed the second of two additional environmental studies for the project.

“We have lost an opportunity to become a global showcase for innovation and environmentally friendly manufacturing in Washington,” Kalama Port Commission Chairman Randy Sweet said in the port statement. “Unfortunately, this is part of a larger pattern of reluctance to listen to dissenting opinions and find balanced and sensible solutions.”

The port said NWIW has spent tens of millions of dollars to address concerns from state licensing agencies, “which have constantly changed in the process.”

“NWIW has done everything right, and their understandable decision to walk away from this project is a real loss to families trying to make ends meet, the future of economic development for our state and our environment,” said the Kalama port commissioner, Troy Stariha, in the press release. declaration.

Those responsible for port and economic development were concerned about the wider implications of the end of the project.

“This project would have brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States from China and would have significantly reduced a host of environmental impacts,” Cowlitz Economic Development Board Chairman Ted Sprague said in the port’s statement. “The reduction in global greenhouse gases would have been greater than Seattle’s GHG emissions. If it’s not a project with perks like this, then what’s good enough? “

“Victory” for environmental groups

Following the port’s announcement, groups opposed to the facility announced the end of NWIW’s lease as a victory for environmental activism.

“Kalama was a looming disaster, so this is a crucial victory for our climate, people and wildlife along the Columbia River,” Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Jared Margolis said in a statement. joint statement with other opposition groups. “We need to get away from these climate bombs that will lock us into an unsustainable future and pollute the air and water we all need to survive.”

In an interview with The Reflector, Columbia Riverkeeper executive director Brett VandenHeuvel said the project process follows a similar pattern to other fossil fuel-related developments his organization has opposed, when a company steps in. , local residents raise concerns and a long fight against the project ensues.

“I think the scientific and political decisions regarding fracking gas show that it is not acceptable for a clean energy future,” said VandenHeuvel.

Opponents said the project would likely source methane from hydraulic fracturing.

VandenHeuvel said one of the main changes in perception of the facility came when project funders began promoting that the methanol produced would be used as a fuel in Asia, contrary to initial claims that it would be strictly intended for the production of plastics.

“To the state’s credit, they assessed all of the new evidence and made what I think was the right decision,” VandenHeuvel said.

He also thanked residents of Kalama County and Cowlitz for mobilizing against the now abandoned facility.

“It’s truly inspiring what the residents of Cowlitz County have accomplished,” said VandenHeuvel.


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