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Tacoma Methanol Plant Project On Hold As The Company Pauses Environmental Review

Ashley Gross
Methanol plant opponents Lisa Campos, Nanette Reetz and Carol Colleran handed out flyers at Marlene's Natural Foods Market on a recent Saturday.

Northwest Innovation Works, the Chinese-backed company that has been seeking to build one of the world's biggest natural gas-to-methanol plants at the Port of Tacoma, said in a statement that it's decided to "pause the environmental review."

"We have been surprised by the tone and substance of the vocal opposition that has emerged in Tacoma," the company said. "To force a facility on a community that does not welcome it would not be consistent with our goals."

Northwest Innovation, whose major investor is an arm of the Chinese government, said it will engage the Tacoma community in further dialogue over the next several months. Charla Skaggs, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to comment further. 

Tacomans have spoken out against the plant at public hearings held by the city in recent weeks, raising concerns about the plant's water and electricity usage as well as potential air pollution. The plant would use 10 million gallons of water a day, which would make it the second-largest water user in Tacoma, after the WestRock paper mill, according to Tacoma Public Utilities. 

`Plastic Junk'

R.R. Anderson is a political cartoonist who runs Tinkertopia, a store and workspace near the University of Washington Tacoma that sells recycled items such as leftover plastic bags and pieces of cardboard for art projects. He's drawn cartoons against the methanol plant and said he's glad to see the plan put on hold. 

"They're just going to make plastic bags and plastic junk that's eventually going to be thrown away or end up in the ocean," he said. "I don't think most Tacomans want to be a part of that."

The company said it aims to build an industry that protects the environment by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Making methanol from natural gas is cleaner than using coal, which is the feedstock primarily used in China.

The company had said it would use "ultra-low emission technology" to limit the amount of air pollution it would discharge in Tacoma. But Tacoma has been trying to shed its legacy of industrial pollution and many people said adding a petrochemical plant would drag the city backwards. 

Union members had spoken out in favor of the project. Northwest Innovation had said that about 1,000 temporary construction jobs would be generated as well as 260 permanent positions. 

"We thank those who have shown support for our project, especially the working men and women in the building trades, the Port of Tacoma, and many other community leaders," the company said. "We remain committed to Tacoma, and will restart the process after assessing the results of our engagement with the community."

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.