A state study has found a “high likelihood” that a $2 billion natural gas-based methanol plant proposed for Kalama could slow the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions produced by the global industry.
Whether these savings were real — or just part of the sales pitch of the developer — has been a key question hanging over the Cowlitz County project, which was proposed in 2014 and immediately generated fierce opposition from environmentalists as an unwanted expansion of the region’s use of fossil fuels.
The plant is proposed by NW Innovation Works, a joint venture formed by Beijing-based CAS Holdings, and would produce methanol for use in China’s plastics industry.
The $486,636 study was based on the work of three contractors. It found the greenhouse gas savings, largely from displacing much more carbon-intensive methanol production from coal in China, could equal 5.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions. That savings, if realized, would roughly equal emissions from more than 1.28 million gasoline-fueled vehicles, according to an estimate of average vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The release this week of the study — a supplemental environmental impact statement — sets the stage for a decision by the Ecology Department, expected in January, on whether to approve a shoreline permit required for the project to move forward.
The high-profile project was once embraced by Gov. Jay Inslee as an industrial development that might be able to reduce global emissions. Then, in May 2019, on a day he signed a bill banning fracking in Washington, he withdrew his support. In a written statement, he said, “I cannot in good conscience” support the methanol plant or a liquefied natural gas project proposed for Tacoma, both of which he said would not accomplish what is necessary to reduce climate change.
Inslee added this would not change the state’s regulatory process that involves a “rigorous and objective” review.
Executives with Kalama-based NW Innovation Works, say the study’s finding on greenhouse gas emissions buttresses their claims of the plant helping to combat climate change resulting from the atmospheric build-up of greenhouse gases.
“Based on the analysis, there are profound benefits in going forward with this project,” said Kent Caputo, chief commercial officer for NW Innovation Works.
Behind the study
The study was released by the Ecology Department, and the three contractors performed different parts of the analysis. The work “informs our thinking and conclusions” but the final document was produced by department staff, who made changes through the drafting process and also made contributions, according to Jeff Zenk, an Ecology Department spokesperson.
Most, if not all, of the changes in the document’s third section, where the greenhouse gas emissions potential savings are analyzed, were communicated to the contractor that helped develop that…
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