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Enviro Groups Challenge Proposed Methanol Plant in Washington

Four environmental groups have appealed a shoreline permit for a proposed $1.8 billion methanol manufacturing plant along the Columbia River in southwest Washington, offering the latest potential hurdle to the massive project.

China-based Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) said its proposed methanol manufacturing and marine export facilities at Port Kalama are the first to be required by the state to follow a new clean air rule aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Nevertheless, the environmental foursome of Earthjustice, Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the permit failed to address threats to climate, safety and public health. They are hoping to get the permit rolled back by the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

At issue is a Shoreline Management Act permit approved last month by the state Department of Ecology (DOE) that would allow NWIW to build its methanol plant along the Columbia River.

"The issuance of this permit is the result of an exhaustive public process in which regulators, the community and a broad array of stakeholders participated in [extensive public hearings and a comments process]," said NWIW President Vee Godley.

In their appeal, the environmental groups allege that the approval of the permit "guarantees" that GHG pollution will be increased, calling the proposed methanol manufacturing plant an "enormous fracking project," referring to the conversion of large volumes of natural gas to methanol that would be exported to China.

"The proposed refinery would consume more fracked natural gas than all of the gas-fired power plants in Washington state combined," said a spokesperson for the environmental groups.

NWIW dropped plans last year for the largest of three methanol facilities it had planned at the Port of Tacoma, WA, while pushing ahead on two separate $1.8 billion facilities at Port Kalama and another at Port of St. Helens at Port Westward on the Oregon side of the Columbia.

For the Port Kalama project, a final environmental impact statement has been issued, and the required 401 Water Quality Certification is complete, in addition to the shoreline conditional use permit.

NWIW was created by China-based Clean Energy Commercialization Co., partnering with units of Double Green Bridge, the Chinese Academy of Science Holding Co. and private investors in H&Q Asia Pacific. NWIW is owned by China's Shanghai Bi Ke Clean Technology Co. Ltd.

Since the shale gas boom kicked into high gear, there has been a surge of interest in global companies siting chemical plants, including methanol production facilities, in the United States.

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