After a third environmental assessment, the Washington Department of Ecology has denied a shoreline permit for a China-backed, $2 billion-plus natural gas-fed methanol plant that would be sited along the Columbia River.

NWIW logo

Project sponsor Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) has until Feb. 9 to appeal the ruling made last Tuesday. Chief Development Officer Vee Godley said the company is evaluating its options, and is “confident that science and reason will prevail.”

NWIW Resources Vice President Clay Riding told NGI that an appeal is likely, and the latest setback would not change the project timeline. “There would have been appeals on the other side if the decision had gone the other way.”

Last month, the Ecology Department released its second supplementary environmental impact statement. NWIW executives at the time said the findings “show that we will meet both economic needs and environmental goals.”

Ecology Director Laura Watson said the state had no choice but to deny the permit. “The known and verifiable emissions from the facility would be extremely large and their effects on Washington’s environment would be significant and detrimental.”

In a seven-page letter, Watson said after years of actions by the state agencies and courts on a conditional use permit, it was denied because of inconsistencies with state laws, a Cowlitz County shoreline master plan, a lack of assurance that the project was in the public interest and the uncertainty about greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation.

Watson listed nearly a dozen reasons why the permit for the methanol plant was “inconsistent with various state Shoreline Management Act protections.”

“Given the strong scientific findings and multiple reviews over the last six years, it is difficult to understand why the original vision for both economic and environmental security has been bypassed,” Godley said. NWIW argued that the project would result in “substantial” overall emissions reductions and mitigate any in-state emissions.

The sponsors argued that the U.S. plant would replace the need for more coal-based methanol production — and more GHG emissions — in China.

NWIW, which originally unveiled plans for multiple methanol plant sites, was created by China’s Clean Energy Commercialization Co., which partnered with units of Double Green Bridge and the Chinese Academy of Science Holding Co., as well as private investors in H&Q Asia Pacific. NWIW is owned by China’s Shanghai Bi Ke Clean Technology Co. Ltd. and more recently added two global shipping companies as private investors.

Last November, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington referred two other permits back to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project proposed for Port Kalama. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Washington Environmental Council among others had challenged the permits. Environmental groups have opposed NWIW’s plans since they surfaced in 2014.At the end of last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rolled out a climate change program  focused on electrification and called for phasing out fossil fuels. Legislation is expected this year to create cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel standard programs.