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Political Muscle, Money Driving Forces for WA Methanol Project

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Monday, December 21, 2020   

KALAMA, Wash. -- High-level politicians are entangled in the push for a massive fossil fuel facility in Washington state.

Eric de Place, director of the nonprofit Sightline Institute's Thin Green Line program, said political muscle and money are the driving force for the natural gas refinery and export facility planned for Kalama, along the Columbia River.

"You've got some local officials, including one person, Richard DeBolt, who is simultaneously a state legislator representing Kalama and also on the company's payroll as an employee, so really setting up some potential conflicts of interest," de Place said.

Northwest Innovation Works, a company backed by the Chinese government, is pushing the project forward. Kalama would be the landing point for natural gas from Canada, where it would be refined into methanol and exported to China.

The company says allegations of impropriety are "meritless" and it has followed state guidance to avoid any conflicts of interest. Rep. DeBolt did not respond to a request for comment.

De Place noted a number of other politicians are backing the project, including Gary Locke, the former Democratic governor of Washington and U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama. Locke was named chair of Northwest Innovation Works' global advisory board in 2016.

The company has also received tax dollars from the state and federal governments. De Place said its parent company, Pan Pacific Energy, received between $150,000 and $350,000 in CARES Act loans this year.

"What they have been doing at the same time, even though they've been getting these taxpayer subsidies, is spending money on lobbyists in Olympia," De Place said. "It looks like they've been hiring some other strategists to help them advance their cause. And then they've been pouring money into candidate races."

He noted Gov. Jay Inslee withdrew his support for the project in 2019 because of its contribution to climate change. De Place said Washingtonians shouldn't have to accept the style of politics that has pushed the plan forward.

"It's up to the Northwest to say we want a fair and unbiased review process for a project like this that is not subject to political influence, where you can't buy your way into approval, and where the public has just as much a voice as any senior government official who's taken a job with the company," he said.

Northwest Innovation Works says the Kalama project is good for the environment and represents the single-largest opportunity for the state to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Disclosure: Sightline Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Energy Policy, Sustainable Agriculture, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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