Ruling on NW Innovation Works' plant could have implications for company's proposal at Port Westward

A legal blow to a proposed methanol refinery plant in Washington could have implications for the same project proposed in Columbia County.

Citing an insufficient environmental impact statement that failed to address greenhouse gas emissions from a methanol refinery in Kalama, Wash., pitched by Northwest Innovation Works, environmental groups appealed Cowlitz County's decision to approve a permit for the project last year.

PORT OF ST. HELENS PHOTO - Port Westward, shown here, could be the future site of a methanol production plant operated by NW Innovation Works. The company proposed a similar project in Kalama, Wash., which was deemed to have an insufficient environmental impact statement for its greenhouse gas emissions. NW Innovation Works is the same company proposing a methanol plant at Port Westward. The company has a lease option with the Port of St. Helens.

Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice, filed a legal challenge that was upheld by Washington's Shorelines Hearings Board, Columbia Riverkeeper reported.

The board's decision was appealed to Cowlitz County Superior Court, which upheld the previous ruling from the Shorelines Board.

"The Port of Kalama must now chose [sic]: appeal the Cowlitz County Superior Court's decision; admit the true environmental cost of methanol refining and export; or abandon this dirty fossil fuel export project," Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, stated in a news release.

The legal blow didn't stall the project. The Shorelines Board also reinstated the permit for the refinery, according to the Port of Kalama.

The Port of Kalama says it welcomes the decision, which provides clarity for the port on what is required in a supplemental environmental impact statement.

"One of our challenges has been ambiguity about what is required and what is not, especially related to greenhouse gas emissions," Mark Wilson, executive director of the Port of Kalama, stated in a news release from the port. "While Judge [James] Warning shared the Shorelines Board's concerns about Ecology's Greenhouse Gas Guidance document, the Judge agreed with the Port that the proper remedy was a limited remand of the EIS only to revise the Greenhouse gas impact analysis, while leaving the balance of the Shorelines permits in place pending that limited review."

Doug Hayes, executive director of the Port of St. Helens, said the Port Westward proposal will also face county and state review in Oregon.

"The county will likey be the first point of entry, but ultimately, DEQ is also going to have to look at it," Hayes noted.

NW Innovation Works' Port Westward project has been welcomed by some county residents for the prospective jobs it would create, while it has been scrutinized by others for its environmental impacts and significant water usage from the Columbia River.

The Port Westward project has not yet been formally reviewed.

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