Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Sept. 28, 2021

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National labor group urges Inslee, Ecology to approve Kalama methanol plant

Letter notes years of study already completed, number of jobs the site would bring


LONGVIEW — A coalition of about 25 national and international unions wants state officials to approve plans for a $2 billion methanol refinery in Kalama.

In a Nov. 18 letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee, North America’s Building Trades Unions wrote: “As you know, we have worked diligently to identify and support ‘blue/green’ projects that create family wage union jobs and also help fight climate change.”

“We believe the (Northwest Innovation Works) project represents one of these opportunities.

“We hope that you will resist any effort … to further delay this project,” the unions wrote to the governor.

The letter was sent a few days ahead of a federal District Court ruling that vacated federal permits for the plant and sent the plans back to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for another environmental review.

In the letter, NABTU said that it was writing on “behalf of the nearly 80,000 members of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, the broader labor community, and their families.”

Nearly two dozen local and regional labor leaders, including Kelso Longview Building and Construction Trades Council President Mike Bridges and Cowlitz Wahkiakum Central Labor Council President Tara McElligot signed the letter.

The national organization represents more than 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada across 14 national and international unions and more than 330 provincial, state and local building and construction trades councils, according to the NABTU website.

A PDF version of the complete letter is attached to this story online at tdn.com.

Northwest Innovation Works wants to build a $2 billion methanol plant on leased land at the Port of Kalama. Company officials say the facility would employ 200 people to convert natural gas into methanol for use in plastic manufacturing in China.

‘Best possible step’

A recent draft environmental study completed by the state Department of Ecology suggested that the plant would increase global greenhouse gas emissions, but likely at a lesser rate than if the plant is not built and market demands for methanol are met by other sources.

Ecology also concluded that the company can offset all of the plant’s in-state emissions, estimated at around 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, with other environmentally friendly mitigation projects.

“Unlike electricity and fuels, there are not any renewable alternatives when it comes to making Boeing 787’s, Microsoft computer keyboards or REI kayaks and tents,” the union letter said. “NWIW may not represent the ultimate end point for how the world will produce its synthetic materials in the year 2050, but it does represent the best possible step forward that we can take at this time and it puts us on a path toward a low carbon materials future that supports family wage jobs.”

Conservation organizations, including Columbia Riverkeeper, have staunchly opposed the plant since it was first proposed in 2014. Those groups have filed multiple lawsuits against the plant, including a case that led to a federal District Court decision last week to vacate the federal permits required for the facility and redo an environmental review.

In a prepared statement issued after the ruling, a Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney said the groups were “relieved the court rejected the permits for the project, but rather than send it back to the drawing board, state and federal leaders should pull the plug now.”

The national labor representatives noted that the project has undergone “rigorous and objective review” that should put the governor’s concerns “to rest.”

“Despite the proliferation of analysis detailing these benefits and all of the known facts regarding the global materials market, repeatedly studied and validated over a frustratingly long six-year review period for the NWIW facility, there are still those few who oppose the project,” the labor letter said.

“The numbers don’t lie,” the letter continued. “The negative consequences of not building the proposed Kalama methanol facility are clear: more global GHG emissions and less economic opportunity for a Washington State economy ravaged by the pandemic. Let’s build progress. Let’s build NW Innovation Works’ methanol facility.”