science environment

Columbia Riverkeeper Wants SEC To Investigate Kalama Methanol Project

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Vancouver, Wash. Feb. 12, 2020 3:45 p.m.

A conservation group is pushing the federal government to investigate a proposed methanol plant in Kalama, Washington.

Columbia Riverkeeper on Tuesday sent a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission saying the plant’s backers have misrepresented how the methanol will be used and broke a federal law in the process.


The group says Northwest Innovation Works, the firm planning to build and operate the methanol plant at the Port of Kalama, lied to potential investors when it said the methanol could be sold for fuel in addition to being used to make plastics.

Related: Kalama Methanol Plant Permitting Halted For Additional Environmental Review

“We believe that there needs to be a thorough investigation of where Northwest Innovation Works’ methanol will wind up when it leaves Kalama,” said Miles Johnson, senior attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper.

Tom Luce, of Northwest Innovation Works, called the letter part of an ongoing smear campaign against what would be the nation’s largest gas-to-methanol refinery.

“We don’t have any information on what Columbia River is doing, but they have engaged in a long-time lobbying campaign to smear NWIW’s reputation,” Luce wrote in an email to OPB.

Luce added that independent analyses have reportedly shown the plant would cut millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. “Those are the facts,” he wrote.


Related: Study: Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery Won't Increase Global Emissions

Columbia Riverkeeper’s move to involve the SEC comes while the potential refinery stands in a legal limbo.

OPB first reported last April that NWIW had shown slideshows to potential investors touting the growing market for methanol to be used as fuel. The slideshows seemed to contradict the firm's statements for years that the methanol's end product would be olefins, the building blocks of plastic.

Two months later, Port of Kalama commissioners unanimously passed a lease amendment that prohibited the firm from exporting its product for fuel.

Then, the Port in August released a study finding that the refinery wouldn’t impact global greenhouse gas emissions. The report looked at the plant’s construction and operations.

The port's study was then affirmed by Cowlitz County, giving the Washington Department of Ecology a month to approve the permits, deny them, or ask for more information. The state agency asked for more information.

On Dec. 23, the Port asked Cowlitz County Superior Court to compel the state agency to make a decision on the permits.

Related: Port Of Kalama: Methanol Refinery Can’t Export For Fuel

“The Port, the county and the project proponent, Northwest Innovation Works, are entitled to have the existing documents reviewed and a decision made,” said Mark Wilson, the Port’s executive director, in a statement.

According to Johnson with Columbia Riverkeeper, involving the SEC is the group’s attempt to make sure the plans that could involve transportation fuel are addressed before permits are approved.

“This is important because if you use that methanol to fuel transportation, to fuel cars and trains in China, that methanol is going to be burned, it’s going to go into our atmosphere and intensify the climate crisis,” he said. “That’s something that has not been addressed in the environmental review for this project.”