Washington state approves a permit for the Cowlitz County methanol plant, but adds a requirement to reduce or offset carbon emissions.

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Developers of a $1.8 billion Cowlitz County methanol plant would have to offset — or find ways to reduce — carbon emissions under the terms of a key shoreline permit approved this week by the state Department of Ecology.

The high-profile Northwest Innovation Works project in Kalama is to produce methanol from Western natural gas, and ship the chemical to China to be used as a feedstock in the plastics industry.

The project has been lauded by Gov. Jay Inslee as one of the most innovative clean-energy efforts in the nation, and an alternative to a dirtier process in China that produces methanol from coal.

It has been opposed by environmental groups — who have cited its reliance on fracked natural gas, safety risks at the plant and other concerns. And the permit, as well as a water-quality certification also issued this week by the state, could still face challenges from environmental groups.

The shoreline conditional-use permit was granted by Cowlitz County, and then subject to a final review by the state Department of Ecology.

Under a state clean-air rule that took effect last year, companies that produce at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon emissions a year must cap and gradually reduce them. The rule is part of state efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions for fossil-fuel combustion that scientists say are driving climate change.

The Kalama project would produce up to 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions a year, an amount equal to just over 1 percent of the state’s current total emissions. According to the permit, the project would have to reduce emissions by 1.7 percent a year through 2035, or purchase carbon credits that invest in things such as renewable energy to help offset these emissions.

The permit’s other conditions included protecting water quality by setting up standards for disposing of dredge materials.

Vee Godley, NW Innovation Works president, said his company is still “digging in” to the terms of the permit to determine the impacts on the project.

“The bottom line remains that we are deeply committed to setting a new standard for environmental responsibility in this industrial category,” Godley said.

The Sierra Club, in a written statement, criticized the project’s environmental impact statement as inadequate, and the group called for Inslee to come out against the project.