SEATTLE (AP) – A judge on Monday revoked permits for a huge methanol plant on the Columbia River in southwest Washington, agreeing with conservation groups that the project needs a more thorough environmental review.
The U.S. Army Engineering Board has granted permits to build an export facility that is part of a $ 2 billion northwest-facing Northwest Innovation Works plant in Kalama. The plant would buy natural gas from Canada and convert it into methanol, which would be shipped to China to produce olefins – compounds that can be used in everything from tissues and contact lenses to iPhones and medical devices.
Conservation groups, including Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council, challenged the permits in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, saying the Engineering Board only conducted a summary review that did not take into account the full environmental impact of the project.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma agreed that the federal law required the agency to conduct a full environmental impact assessment. He also told the corps to assess whether the project was in the public interest, but rejected their argument that further review was needed under the Endangered Species Act.
“It is absurd to think that a huge cracked gas refinery will not pose a catastrophic risk to the fragile Columbia River ecosystem,” Jared Margolis, a lawyer at the Center for Biodiversity, said in a press release. “These dirty fossil fuel horrors are only accelerating climate change, and we still can’t allow companies to do the opposite.”
According to NW Innovation Works, supported by the Chinese government, the project will create 1,000 well-paying jobs and generate $ 30-40 million in annual revenue. The company also claims to offset emissions produced directly or indirectly in Washington State as a result of the project.
“We’ve been in this for almost seven years, and the continued support of the kalama community and the work community means a lot to us,” Vee Godley, the company’s head of development, said in an email. “We believe this is a project that is making substantial progress. To the extent that more processes are proving appropriate and necessary to firmly inform regulators and the public, we are fully involved and see through this process.”
The verdict was the last failure of the project, the construction of which will be one of the largest methanol plants in the world. Last year, the Washington Department of Ecology demanded further environmental analysis, saying that after five years of planning, its supporters had not provided enough information on greenhouse gas emissions and offsets.
The results of a further review were released in September, confirming that the facility will be one of the state’s 10 largest sources of greenhouse gases. The state ecology department found that even though the company insisted that its product be used in plastics production rather than burned as fuel – an increase in global supply would actually lead to the burning of more methanol.
Nevertheless, it also found that the production of methanol in the plant would be more efficient than the production from coal or other sources – an argument that was emphasized by project supporters, including the port of Kalama.
Ecology is considering whether to approve the project.