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April 7, 2020

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Support grows for questions on methanol plant permit

More lawmakers join call for quicker, clearer methanol plant process

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A Southwest Washington lawmaker has gained bipartisan support in his push for a quicker, clearer permitting process for the proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol plant.

State Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat, on Monday sent a second letter to the governor criticizing the state Department of Ecology’s decision in November to delay approval of a key permit for the project. The new letter urges Gov. Jay Inslee to provide “clarification and immediate efforts” about the state’s recent decisions affecting the methanol plant, including Ecology’s decision to conduct a second environmental review.

“After nearly six years of permitting and associated (review), subjecting the Kalama project to a replacement round of unspecified environmental review is both unnecessary and heavy with implications for the economic development interests of the state,” the letter says.

The letter includes signatures from all of the legislators representing Cowlitz County, except for Rep. Richard DeBolt, who works for Northwest Innovation Works, the company proposing the plant. Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, also signed the letter.

Takko told The Daily News on Monday that he is “frustrated” that permitting for the methanol plant has “drug on for five years.”

“Some legislators feel the same way. I’m sure if I circulated it (the letter) even longer and further, we probably could have gained more signatures,” he said.

Ecology’s new emissions study could extend the permitting process another year and cost taxpayers $600,000. Inslee is requesting funds for the study in his 2020 supplement budget.

A second SEIS would “needlessly cost the taxpayers,” the lawmakers’ letter says. Instead, Ecology should “articulate in very specific terms” its concerns with the current climate change analysis and work with the county and local environmental review officials to “come back to the table and resolve this unnecessary impasse.”

Their own study

Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama in August submitted their own environmental impact study, which concluded that the methanol plant would reduce global emissions by at least 10 million metric tons per year, or the equivalent of about 2 million cars, by offsetting coal-based methanol production. The company also has pledged to offset all its in-state greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecology called the study insufficient.

The governor’s office directed questions to the Department of Ecology. Ecology had not received a copy of the legislators’ letter Monday, but agency representatives said the new study was necessary to adequately answer questions about the project’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we’ve been asking for, we’ve asked multiple times, and for whatever reason, we have not been provided that,” said spokesman Jeff Zenk. “To fulfill our role as stewards of Washington’s environment, we had to take on the second supplemental EIS.”

Ecology’s new study will target the life cycle of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment. It will also investigate whether the project will displace other sources of methanol, rather than supplement them, Zenk said.

State Rep. Jim Walsh said he signed the letter because he wants clarification on the environmental review process, a “responsibility that rests squarely at the feet of Gov. Inslee.”

“It has been bent and twisted and pulled out of its original shape into something that’s a pretextual tool in killing industrial projects — and that was not the original purpose of the environmental impact study process,” said Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican. “The process was developed in good faith to make sure industrial development projects were undertaken with the full knowledge of the effects they would have on the environment and the community.”

Ecology keeps “changing the goal posts” for industrial projects like the methanol plant, Walsh said.

State. Rep. Ed Orcutt agreed. The Kalama Republican said the company has already met the state’s environmental requirements, so delaying the permits damages Washington’s reputation as a place for business.

“You don’t know if you will ever get your permit, even if you know you can meet all of the requirements they are showing. … These delays cost money, and if we are less competitive or we look like we are a higher risk (of denying projects) … these companies will stop looking at Washington state and go somewhere else,” Orcutt said.

That means the state would lose out on jobs and tax revenue from new businesses, he said.

Proponents of the methanol plant say it will create 1,000 construction jobs, nearly 200 permanent jobs and generate millions in tax revenue.

Inslee’s status

Inslee supported the project in its early days in 2014, but he announced his opposition to it in May while running to be U.S. president, with climate change as his campaign focus.

“This is a chance for the governor to get back to his first position, which was the right position and the best position,” Walsh said. “His opposition to the Kalama methanol project is pure politics.”

All of the lawmakers who signed Takko’s letter represent rural or suburban districts, Walsh said. If Inslee is sincere about his claims of helping rural communities thrive, he will heed their requests, Walsh said.

Gaining bipartisan support “always helps,” Orcutt added. And with Takko at the helm, the letter might appeal to the Democratic governor, Walsh said.

“The advantage of a Democrat being kind of the lead guy on it is that maybe the governor will see it through a nonpartisan lens. Since it’s not another party leading the change, maybe he will stop and listen.”

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