Department of Ecology News Release - January 19, 2021

Ecology denies permit for Kalama methanol facility

Environmental impacts from greenhouse gas emissions among reasons for denial


Today, the Washington Department of Ecology denied a Shoreline Conditional Use permit for the methanol facility proposed by Northwest Innovation Works in Kalama. A significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions and inconsistencies with the Shoreline Management Act were among the principal reasons for denying the permit.

An environmental analysis conducted by Ecology found that the proposed facility would be one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in Washington, emitting nearly one million metric tons a year within the state’s borders, and millions of tons more from extracting natural gas, shipping the product to Asia, and final uses of the methanol.

In a written statement, Ecology Director Laura Watson said, “I believe we were left with no other choice than to deny the permit for the Kalama project. The known and verifiable emissions from the facility would be extremely large and their effects on Washington’s environment would be significant and detrimental.”

In a decision letter to project applicants, Ecology outlined its reasons for denying the permit, including:

  • Inconsistencies with Washington’s Shoreline Management Act, including significant environmental impacts associated with the increase in greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Conflicts with Cowlitz County’s Shoreline Master Plan, including a failure to demonstrate that the project will not adversely impact the shoreline of the Columbia River;
  • Failure to demonstrate that the public interest will be protected from detrimental effects from the project;
  • The project could prevent the state from meeting new greenhouse gas limits set in 2020 by the Legislature, which require both deeper cuts in emissions and to make those cuts more quickly in order to protect our state from the worst effects of climate change; and
  • The proposed mitigation for the facility’s in-state emissions could use out-of-state offsets, meaning it would not contribute to Washington’s statutory limits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 95% by 2050.

Ecology’s greenhouse gas analysis found that the total carbon emissions tied to the Kalama project would be 4.8 million tons a year, most of that coming from extracting the natural gas used to make methanol and the final uses for the methanol in Asia. About 1 million tons of that total would be attributable to in-state emissions — which would still be enough to make the facility one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington.

Ecology found that the Kalama facility could produce fewer emissions than some competing sources of methanol, such as coal-based methanol. However, Ecology’s analysis found that total global emissions associated with methanol production could rise with or without the methanol from Kalama — constructing the new facility would not actually decrease emissions.

The analysis also found significant uncertainty about future methanol market projections due to potential shifts in government policies and technology.

“At the end of the day, we know with certainty that this proposal would result in significant new greenhouse gas emissions,” Watson said. “We do not know with certainty how environmental and economic policy decisions around the globe may impact the overall methanol market and rate of emissions.”

The methanol facility was first proposed in 2015. In 2018, a court ruling determined that the greenhouse gas analysis in the project’s original Environmental Impact Statement conducted by Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama was inadequate to make a decision on the shoreline permit.

Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama completed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in late summer of 2019, but Ecology determined that the analysis remained insufficient for evaluating the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation measures. That led Ecology to conduct a Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement focused on these emissions, which the agency released Dec. 21, 2020, and used to guide its permitting decision.

The applicants now have 21 days to appeal the permit decision to the Shorelines Hearings Board.

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Jeff Zenk
Twitter: ecologywa