Gov. Jay Inslee — citing the “accelerating threat of climate change” — withdrew support Wednesday for two Western Washington natural-gas projects: one in Kalama that would turn this fossil fuel into methanol, and another in Tacoma that would produce a transportation fuel for the maritime industry.
Inslee had previously backed both of these projects, once calling the proposed Kalama methanol plant “one of the most innovative clean-energy projects in the nation” and a model for the world. But Inslee now says he can no longer “in good conscience” support that project or a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has proposed for Tacoma.
“In the early days of both projects,” Inslee said in a statement, “I said they could help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as we transition to cleaner energy sources, but I am no longer convinced that locking in these multidecadal infrastructure projects are sufficient to accomplishing what’s necessary.”
Inslee said his opposition is not intended to change the state regulatory reviews of those projects, which must comply with state and federal laws.
Scientists have cited fossil-fuel combustion as a major driver of climate change forecast to have increasingly dire effects in the 21st century. Natural gas can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas as it is produced and transported, and also releases carbon emissions as it is combusted.
But proponents of both the methanol and LNG plants have promoted the projects as ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions because their products would be cleaner than those they replace. On Wednesday, they rejected Inslee’s criticism, and some questioned whether the governor’s quest to become president with a campaign based on combating climate change had influenced his newfound opposition.
“I worry that Gov. Jay Inslee’s interests here are more tied to his personal presidential ambition than what the science says and what is right for this state,” said Ted Sprague, president of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, which has supported the methanol plant in Kalama.
The plant’s developer, NW Innovation Works, has proposed shipping methanol made from North American natural gas to China, saying it could replace coal-based methanol made through a process that releases far more greenhouse gases.
NW Innovation Works leaders have told state officials that the methanol, once in China, would be used as a feedstock for the plastics industry. But this spring, Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group opposed to the project, obtained a PowerPoint presentation made to investors that also pitched using the methanol as an automotive fuel in China.
The LNG plant in Tacoma has been promoted by Puget Sound Energy as part of the company’s effort to combat climate change.
Andy Wappler, a vice president of the utility, said the LNG would replace diesel or bunker fuel that now power commercial vessels, and that studies of the project have consistently found it benefits the climate and reduces local air pollution.
“This turnaround (by Inslee) is unexpected given his past support and given the most recent science from government agencies,” Wappler said.
Environmentalists have long criticized Inslee for his support of the two projects, and cheered the governor’s new position.
“I give the governor a lot of credit for coming out against it, said Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper. “It takes a lot of guts to learn while you are in office.”
Inslee announced his opposition to the two projects on a day when he also signed a bill banning the use in Washington state of hydraulic fracking technology for natural gas and oil. Washington currently has no oil and gas production. But other states, the fracking technology is widely used.