"For over eight months, the Department of Energy has refused to turn over this public information. NWIW’s refinery would consume more fracked gas than every gas-fired power plant in Washington State combined and rank among the state’s leading causes of greenhouse gas pollution. The public has a right to know if our government plans to finance this fossil fuel giant.” -Miles Johnson, Senior Attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Columbia Riverkeeper sues Department of Energy for withholding information about financial aid for a proposed petrochemical plant.
August 22, 2018 (Kalama, WA)—Today, Columbia Riverkeeper filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Energy’s (Energy) withholding of information about financial assistance from the U.S. government for Northwest Innovation Works LLC (NWIW), which proposes the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery along the Columbia River. If Energy moves forward with the loan guarantee and NWIW goes bankrupt, the federal government could be responsible for paying some or all of the $2.1 billion cost of building the refinery. The majority partner of NWIW, CAS Holdings, is a commercial offshoot of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is owned by the Chinese government.
“For over eight months, the Department of Energy has refused to turn over this public information,” said Miles Johnson, Senior Attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. “NWIW’s refinery would consume more fracked gas than every gas-fired power plant in Washington State combined and rank among the state’s leading causes of greenhouse gas pollution. The public has a right to know if our government plans to finance this fossil fuel giant.”
In 2014, NWIW announced plans to turn fracked gas into methanol in the Columbia River town of Kalama, Washington. NWIW aims to use tax breaks, grants, and other forms of financial assistance to build and operate its refinery.
"Transparency is paramount if the government is going to be held accountable to the public it serves,” said Robert Galbraith, a senior research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative, a corporate and government watchdog group. “It is especially critical for the public to know about the government's deals to underwrite the fossil fuel industry, whose dramatic impact on our world—from tainted water supplies in fracking fields to supercharged hurricanes to devastating wildfires—is well documented. The Freedom of Information Act is an essential tool for the people to learn about what government is doing in their name, and attempts by the government to circumvent public access to records of immediate public concern, such as those in this case, is cause for alarm."
Columbia Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Oregon and an appeal with Energy to obtain information about NWIW’s project and finances.
NWIW’s proposal has drawn criticism and controversy from locals, as well as national environmental groups. John Flynn, who retired in Kalama to enjoy the Columbia River’s outstanding salmon fishing, said: “From the 1.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emitted to the toxic and hazardous chemicals this refinery would release, I cannot see myself fishing in the shadow of this monstrosity.” In another lawsuit brought by Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, a state appeals board ruled that an inadequate analysis of the refinery’s climate pollution violated Washington State law. To date, Washington's Governor Inslee has received over 20,000 petitions opposing the project.
Columbia Riverkeeper is represented by Dave Bahr of Bahr Law Offices PC, specializing in litigating the Freedom of Information Act and ensuring government transparency.
About Columbia Riverkeeper
Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Representing over 16,000 members and supporters, Columbia Riverkeeper works to restore a Columbia River where people can safely eat the fish they catch and children can swim without fear of toxic exposure. Columbia Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the world’s fastest growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations worldwide. For more information go to columbiariverkeeper.org.
Current status of project:
Local, state, and federal agencies are currently reviewing the environmental and human health impacts of the proposed Kalama methanol refinery in order to determine whether the facility will receive several necessary permits. Earlier this year, a Washington State court ruled that the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County's review of the methanol refinery proposal violated the State Environmental Policy Act. These agencies are expected to release an updated draft environmental report—focusing on the methanol refinery's contributions to climate change—sometime this fall.
NWIW has applied for federal and Washington State grants and other forms of financial assistance. In addition, the company is asking U.S. taxpayers to own the financial risk—up to $2.1 billion—if the methanol refinery fails.
- The Port of Kalama is asking the federal government for $11.5 million to build NWIW a dock and a road to the methanol refinery. The Port recently applied for a $11.5 million dollar federal BUILD grant to construct a massive dock in the Columbia River for NWIW’s methanol ships. See BUILD Grant Supporting Documents:
2018.6.26 Letter of support for Port of Kalama BUILD app
2018.4.27 Federal BUILD Grant Announcement
- The Port of Kalama asked the state of Washington for another $11.5 million to build NWIW’s dock and road. In Washington’s latest transportation budget, the Port asked for an additional $11.5 million dollars to pay for NWIW’s dock and road.
See WA Transportation Funds Supporting Document:
2016 WA DOT Prioritized Freight Project List
- The Port of Kalama asked for a $15 million federal loan to build a well for NWIW. To feed the methanol refinery’s massive water demand, the Port of Kalama asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a $15 million low-interest loan to fund construction of an industrial well on the shores of the Columbia River.
See USDA Loan for Well Supporting Documents:
2014.6.26 Port of Kalama Special Meeting Minutes
2014.8.27 Port of Kalama Meeting Minutes
- NWIW lobbied for state tax loopholes valued at $143 million. According to a fiscal analysis prepared for the Washington legislature, existing tax loopholes will allow NWIW to avoid paying $143 million in state and local sales taxes. NWIW successfully lobbied against legislation designed to close those loopholes.
See Sales Tax Loopholes Supporting Document:
2016.2.24 Methanol plants could qualify for hundreds of millions in tax breaks, Tacoma News Tribune
- NWIW wants U.S. taxpayers to bear the financial risk—up to $2.1 billion—if the methanol refinery fails. NWIW is asking the U.S. Department of Energy for a loan guarantee. If NWIW goes bankrupt, the federal government could be responsible for paying some or all of the $2.1 billion cost of building the methanol refinery.
See DOE Loan Guarantee Documents:
Credit Paper on NWIW Request for Loan Guarantee
NWIW Presentation Reissue
- NWIW wants to use Washington public employees’ retirement funds to build the methanol refinery. NWIW gave the private investment firm Stonepeak the exclusive option to fund construction of the methanol refinery in exchange for part ownership. Much of the money Stonepeak would use to build NWIW’s methanol refinery comes from Washington public employees’ retirement investments.
See WA Retirement Funds Document:
2016.12.14 Washington State Bets Retirement Funds on Fracked Gas, Sightline