Sunday, October 2, 2022
Oct. 2, 2022

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Keely: Kalama methanol refinery’s demise powered by locals


The Kalama methanol refinery’s demise was powered by — and good for — Kalama locals. Trust me; I am one.

After Northwest Innovation Works abandoned plans for the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama, Port of Kalama officials complained about government overreach, burdensome regulations and meddlesome out-of-towners.

The real story involves Kalama locals working together to protect our town, our land and water, and our health.

Let me tell you about us and how we defeated a massive fossil fuel export project backed by multinational corporations.

It was a long road, but we made new friends and learned a lot along the way. I remember the first public hearing on the methanol refinery in March 2016. A timid 14-year-old, I was not eager to speak in front of a thousand people. But I spoke anyway to protect my beautiful hometown, and I assumed that our shared passion for a clean and healthy Pacific Northwest would overcome political influence peddling and false promises. I had a lot to learn.

At the start, we knew little about the process or effects of turning fracked gas into methanol on an industrial scale.

So a small group of us began researching the refinery’s impacts, with support from Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and some Cowlitz and Clark county residents who protected their towns from the Millennium coal and Tesoro Savage oil-by-rail terminals. As we learned the risks, we began talking to our neighbors, engaging reporters, and meeting with local and state officials.

Tight-knit group

Not everyone from Kalama opposed the methanol refinery, but many of us did.

One conversation at a time, and over many years, our little group shared information and countered Northwest Innovation Works’ half-truths.

As a result, we grew in number, credibility and influence. People of all ages and backgrounds brought their unique skills, experiences, concerns and resources to this campaign; our group’s diverse perspectives and personalities helped us connect with a wide audience.

Fortunately, Washington has leaders such as Gov. Jay Inslee and Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson, who listen to communities and respect science.

It was not easy for them: Northwest Innovation Works insisted that its fracked gas refinery was somehow part of the solution to climate change. Nevertheless, Gov. Inslee denounced the methanol refinery, recognizing the urgent need to transition away from fracked gas and other fossil fuels.

The Department of Ecology — after years of expert review, public comment, and multiple meetings with project backers and opponents (including me) — determined that the methanol refinery’s greenhouse gas pollution would be incompatible with Washington’s commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050. It was a politically courageous call by Washington leaders and one grounded in science.

Today, Kalama and the lower Columbia are as beautiful as ever. And we are free to enjoy them because our town is no longer threatened with toxic pollution, fracked gas pipeline construction and safety concerns, or unsightly gas flares and vapor plumes.

Kalama residents like myself spent hundreds of hours of our lives in a multiyear struggle to protect the place we call home, but in the process, we formed a tight-knit, supportive group of friends.

Make no mistake: This was a victory by, and for, us.

Cambria Keely is a community organizer intern at Columbia Riverkeeper. She is a Kalama native and a Western Washington University student pursuing degrees in Environmental Science and Environmental Policy.

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