A grain ship on the Columbia River at the Port of Kalama, which could one day also host a methanol plant.

A grain ship on the Columbia River at the Port of Kalama, which could one day also host a methanol plant.

Ashley Ahearn, KUOW/EarthFix

Washington’s Department of Ecology wants more information before deciding whether to approve a shoreline permit for a controversial methanol refinery in Kalama.

The state agency sent a letter to Cowlitz County on Tuesday that called the submitted permit incomplete. It said some of the proposed site plans were out of date and missing key information. It also said the applicants underestimated the amount of greenhouse gas emissions at the proposed site.

In its application, NW Innovation Works establishes a self-imposed limit of 976,131 metric tons greenhouse gas emissions annually. But in the letter to the county, the Department of Ecology says its calculations found an additional 232,136 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted per year. 

“We have been saying for years that this project is harmful to the Columbia River and Washington’s climate,” said Miles Johnson, a clean water attorney with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper. “We think that Ecology should be digging down into the details of what this project would look like and double checking the calculations of the project applicant when it comes to things like greenhouse gas pollution.”

The $1.8 billion project would convert natural gas into methanol, and would be shipped overseas and made into plastic. If built, the plant would be the largest methanol refinery in the world.

In January, Cowlitz County held a three-day hearing which resulted in an approval of the shoreline permit. The permit was then sent to the Washington Department of Ecology for review.

“We know people want a timely decision,” said Curt Hart, spokesman for the Department of Ecology. “But we also have to be in a position where we can make a final decision that is legally defensible, that protects shoreline and the environment, and reflects accurate information.”

In a prepared statement, Vee Godley, President of NW Innovation Works said experts are reviewing the request for clarification: “We are confident in the accuracy of our submission but appreciate the need for clarification in the review process and will provide any and all information required to address the Department’s questions.”

The state of Washington is giving the Port of Kalama and NW Innovation Works until May 19 to submit the requested information.