Groups challenge permit for $2B methanol plant in Washington

Facility would be built along Washington, Oregon border

The Associated Press

LONGVIEW — Conservation groups have asked a federal judge to reject permits for a proposed $2 billion methanol plant in southwest Washington state.

The Columbia Riverkeeper group and several other organizations are challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2019 approval of the permits for the plant along the border of Washington state and Oregon, The Longview Daily News reported on Tuesday.

The groups argue that the Trump administration illegally approved the permits based on an inadequate review of the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“To evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions impacts caused by the Kalama Project, the Corps primarily relied on initial and draft supplemental state environmental reviews, despite the fact that a state adjudicatory board, state court, and the Washington Department of Ecology found these reviews inadequate,” Columbia Riverkeeper wrote in documents filed in court.

The group added: “By failing to produce a full (environmental impact statement), the Corps got it wrong.”

Corps of Engineers spokesman Tom Conning declined comment on the lawsuit’s accusations because there is ongoing litigation.

“We remain fully committed to protecting and maintaining our aquatic resources and to protecting the navigable capacity of our Nation’s waters through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions,” Conning said.

The court case dates to 2019, when the Corps of Engineers first supported permits for the plant. That approval followed an evaluation by the Corps’ regulatory office that included an opportunity for public input.

In its evaluation, the Corps found that the project would not have a significant impact on the environment. Columbia Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit challenging that decision.

“The Corps considered less than half of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions caused by the project in its environmental review — the 1 million tons each year that will come directly from the refining process in Washington State,” Columbia Riverkeeper wrote.

Columbia Riverkeeper said that the Corps did not consider emissions from increased natural gas production, the production of olefin, a synthetic fiber, and the use of methanol for fuel.

The plant planned by Northwest Innovation Works would convert natural gas to methanol, which would be shipped to China to make plastic. Officials have said the plant would create about 200 jobs and generate millions of dollars in revenue.

An environmental analysis by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County found that the plant would reduce millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting coal-based methanol production in China.

Environmentalist groups like Columbia Riverkeeper have said those estimates are based on “unsubstantiated” theories.

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