27th LD Lawmakers urge thorough examination of Tacoma methanol plant

Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, and Rep. Jake Fey have asked the City of Tacoma to broaden the scope of its environmental review process for Northwest Innovation Works’ proposed methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma.

In a letter to the City’s Planning and Development Services Department, the lawmakers outline issue areas that need to be addressed before the methanol plant is approved. The letter also urges the City to study, not just the impacts the proposed project will have on the cities and counties surrounding the project, but the potential state and global impacts as well.

“We’ve spent 35 years cleaning up our city – from Asarco to cleaning up Commencement Bay and the Thea Foss Waterway,” said Darneille, who has become a strong voice in opposition to the project. “We have invested billions of dollars in our infrastructure and have worked to recapture our downtown museum district, which has become a regional and national draw. All of that progress could be in jeopardy with this development. Deciding to put a methanol plant right in the center of the Tacoma tideflats could have devastating impacts and consequences to our state’s natural resources, our infrastructure, the safety of our citizens, and our state’s quality of life. We need all the answers we can get before this project is permitted.”

Some of the far-reaching effects the letter asks the City of Tacoma to look into include potential on-site impacts including air and water pollution and community safety. The cities of Federal Way, Fife and Tacoma and The Puyallup Tribe of Indians would be most directly impacted by the proposed methanol plant; however, the impact on the state’s resources could be much larger. There are also grave concerns about the 1,500 people in the federal Northwest Detention Center and the hundreds of employees that work there.

“Many members of our community, myself included, have grave concerns about this project and the impact it will have on our health, our environment and our way of life,” Jinkins said. “That being said, I believe in a fair, balanced process that rigorously examines this proposal and addresses the concerns of every person in our community. That needs to happen before any steps are taken to move this project forward.”

The lawmakers’ letter also questions the methanol project’s effect on shared resources like the region’s transportation infrastructure system, water and electricity sources, the increase in marine traffic of shipping vessels, and environmental justice for those who live in the low-income communities in the vicinity of the project.

“The issues raised in our letter and by many people in the community must be fully addressed because of the unprecedented size and scope of the project,” said Fey. “To do anything less than that would be a travesty.”

Northwest Innovation Works, the company that has proposed Tacoma’s methanol plant, is also proposing smaller methanol facilities on the Columbia River in Kalama and in Clatskanie, Ore. Methanol for use in plastics, explosives, paints, solvents and many other chemicals is currently in high demand.

The lawmakers wrote their letter with the intention that it will be a part of the public record. They expect their questions to be addressed during the environmental review process, which is expected to take about a year before the permitting process begins.