The Washington State Department of Ecology announced Wednesday that it has temporarily halted its review of Cowlitz County’s decision to grant a permit for a proposed methanol terminal in Kalama, citing an incomplete permit application from the Port of Kalama and builder Northwest Innovation Works.
“Our review of the county’s permit decision found significant information missing from the project’s supplemental environmental impact statement and inadequate analysis of the project’s potential effects on Washington’s environment,” the department wrote in a statement.
The proposed $2 billion facility, first announced in 2014, would be capable of producing 10,000 metric tons of methanol per day, using 320 million cubic feet of natural gas in the process. The methanol would be exported for plastic production.
Cowlitz County issued a shoreline conditional use permit for the project Sept. 9, and the ecology department subsequently began a review of the county’s decision.
The department’s Wednesday announcement gave the county and the applicants until Nov. 7 to provide the necessary information.
“The required information focuses on two key areas: specific details on the proposed mitigation plan to address the project’s in-state greenhouse gas emissions, and a thorough, comprehensive analysis of the project’s global and in-state greenhouse gas emissions,” the department wrote.
Once the parties submit the information, the department said it will make a final permit decision within 30 days, unless it concludes that additional environmental review is required.
Northwest Innovation Works spokesman Kent Caputo told The Columbian that the company had expected potential further inquiry from the department. The company is reviewing the department’s letter to the county and will assist with a response as needed.
“This is an unclear and evolving regulatory environment,” he said in an email. “While we are proud to be on the leading edge of driving very beneficial outcomes, both globally and here in Washington, this type of process is what crafting meaningful change looks like.”
Port of Kalama spokeswoman Liz Newman said in an email that the port would work with the county and Northwest Innovation Works to evaluate next steps for the project. She said port staff were surprised by the department’s request; the project partners had worked with department staff as part of the project’s State Environmental Protection Act process and used the feedback to help guide the development of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement.
Several environmental groups issued statements in a joint press release praising the department’s decision, arguing that the terminal’s backers understated its environmental impacts.
“Ecology is holding (Northwest Innovation Works) accountable,” Columbia Riverkeeper Conservation Director Dan Serres said. “(Northwest Innovation Works) has proposed the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery on the Columbia River, telling Washington regulators it will mysteriously help the climate.”
Most of the statements called for the department to reject the project altogether.
“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 misleading evaluation,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council. “Today’s action underscores the importance of that.”