Cowlitz County sues over methanol permits

On heels of Port of Kalama’s lawsuit, county files its own petition

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LONGVIEW — Cowlitz County is jumping into the fight against the state’s reversal of two shoreline permits for the $1.8 billion methanol project at the Port of Kalama.

On the heels of the port’s lawsuit filed last week, the county filed its own, separate petition with the Cowlitz Superior Court challenging the state’s decision to reverse two shoreline permits for the project.

“We don’t think the board acted properly in denying the permits,” Commissioner Dennis Weber said Monday. “The words ‘arbitrary and capricious’ have been used.”

Cowlitz County’s hearing examiner granted the shoreline permits in February. But the six-member state Shorelines Hearings Board in September found that the environmental impact statement for the project does not adequately assess the project’s impact on global climate change.

In its 12-page petition for review, the county pointed out that it followed the state’s own guiding documents on how to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from a major project.

“That’s the only guidance available and they (state officials) didn’t comment on the greenhouse gas (analysis) at any point,” Elaine Placido, director of building and planning for Cowlitz County, said Monday.

The county argued that the board acted outside the scope of its authority when it rejected the “only published SEPA Guidance available.”

Although the port and the county have filed appeals, they will still comply with the board’s order to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement of greenhouse gas emissions. There are no set dates yet on when this supplemental EIS will start. It’s not clear how expansive the analysis needs to be.

The original EIS estimates that the project would emit 1.24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. That’s roughly the equivalent emissions of 260,000 passenger cars, boosting the state’s annual greenhouse emissions by 1.28 percent.

Environmentalists argue that the actual greenhouse gas emissions are much larger if the entire methanol production process is considered. The EIS only examines emissions from the project site and its immediate vicinity but does not consider emissions from oceangoing vessels hauling methanol to Asia and from hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas.

Northwest Innovation Works’ supporters say the plant would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing China’s reliance on coal-based methanol. The project would convert natural gas to methanol, which would be shipped to China for plastics manufacturing. Northwest Innovation also says it will use a new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 percent compared to the traditional manufacturing methods. The state Department of Ecology also would require the facility to reduce emissions by 1.7 percent annually until 2035.

The project at the Port of Kalama would create 190 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs, according to the EIS.