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Review: Methanol plant would boost greenhouse gas emissions

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 2, 2020

By Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE – A new environmental review of plans to build a massive methanol plant on the Columbia River in southwestern Washington shows that the project would boost the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere – but not as much as if the methanol were made elsewhere.

The $2 billion Northwest Innovation Works plant proposed in Kalama would take natural gas from Canada and convert it into methanol, which would be shipped to China to make olefins – compounds used in everything from fabrics and contact lenses to iPhones and medical equipment.

It’s drawn staunch opposition from conservation groups that say it would drastically worsen greenhouse gas pollution and contribute to global warming.

Last fall, the Washington Department of Ecology demanded additional environmental analysis, saying that after five years of planning, its backers had failed to provide enough information about its greenhouse gas emissions and how they would be offset.

The results, released Wednesday, confirmed that the facility would be one of the 10 largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The department further concluded the methanol refinery would cause 4.6 million tons of climate pollution every year for 40 years.

The review determined that despite the company’s insistence that its product would be used in plastics production – not burned for fuel – increasing the global supply would in fact lead to more methanol being burned for fuel.

And it said that extracting and transporting the natural gas used to make the methanol could produce higher emissions than previously thought.

Officials also found that worldwide demand for methanol is likely to increase in coming decades, increasing emissions with or without the Kalama plant.

But, the department found, making methanol at the plant would be more efficient than making it from coal or some other sources – an argument that the project’s backers, including the Port of Kalama, have emphasized.

“This means that global greenhouse gas emissions would increase with the addition of the Kalama facility, but likely less than they might if that demand was met by other sources,” the department said.

“With the release of today’s report, we have further credible validation that the Kalama facility drives a global net reduction in GHGs,” NW Innovation Works general counsel Kent Caputo said in a written statement.

But conservation groups seized on the new environmental review as evidence the project should not be built.

“The urgency of our climate crisis demands the highest level of scrutiny, and we cannot allow massive new fracked gas projects to move forward based on speculation and the faint hope of theoretical emission reductions,” Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, said in a news release. “This analysis confirms what we have already known – that this dangerous project poses potentially catastrophic climate impacts and has no place in Washington’s clean energy future.”

Ecology is accepting public comment until Oct. 2 before deciding whether to issue a permit for the project.

Meanwhile, opponents have also sued in federal court to block key federal permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

NW Innovation Works, backed by the Chinese government, has said the project will create 1,000 well-paying jobs and generate $30 million to $40 million in annual tax revenue.

The company also says it will offset any emissions produced directly or indirectly in Washington state as a result of its project.

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