Tribal members on Tacoma's Hylebos Waterway with the Puyallup tribal marina and Tacoma LNG plant in the background.
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Tribal members on Tacoma's Hylebos Waterway with the Puyallup tribal marina and Tacoma LNG plant in the background.
Credit: Courtesy Puyallup Tribe of Indians

About face: Inslee now opposes two mega fossil-fuel projects in Washington state

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee did an about-face Wednesday on two major fossil-fuel projects that he previously supported.

“I cannot in good conscience support continued construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma or a methanol production facility in Kalama,” Inslee said right after he signed a bill that bans fracking of natural gas.

Inslee said emerging science shows the two projects would be too harmful for the global climate.

“In the early days of both projects, 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,” he said.

“We don’t have the luxury of a 50-year transition phase,” Inslee said.

Natural gas is cleaner burning than oil or coal, but it's mostly methane, a potent trapper of heat in the atmosphere.

"It's very disappointing to hear this statement today, but we’re going to continue forward with the project,” said Andy Wappler with Puget Sound Energy, the state’s largest utility.

PSE owns the Tacoma LNG plant, already half-built on the Tacoma waterfront.

Wappler said the plant will help the environment by replacing dirtier petroleum fuels.

That claim is supported by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s environmental impact study, released in March, but bitterly contested by tribes and environmental groups in the Tacoma area.

They argue that the regulatory agency, by relying on a 12-year-old estimate of methane’s ability to trap heat, ignored the best available science and badly underestimated the damage that natural gas does.

Recent studies in Alberta and British Columbia, where the plant’s gas would come from, have also shown that fracking wells leak more methane into the sky than previously estimated.

"It's just a dangerous project that needs to be stopped," Puyallup Tribe of Indians chair Bill Sterud said.

While the Puyallup Tribe and green groups in Tacoma celebrated Inslee’s announcement, it's unclear what difference it will make to the two embattled projects.

Inslee said his stance “does not change our state’s regulatory process” and that he would work with agency directors “in the coming weeks to discuss the way forward.”

The Kalama methanol plant is still in the middle of its permitting process.

Chinese-backed Northwest Innovation Works claims its methanol plant would benefit the environment by displacing coal power used in plastics manufacturing in China.

But documents published in April by Oregon Public Broadcasting revealed that the company has been telling investors the methanol would help meet China’s voracious demand for automobile fuel.

“I worry that Jay’s interests here are more tied to his personal presidential ambition than what the science says,” a Northwest Innovation Works press release quotes Cowlitz Economic Development Council president Ted Sprague as saying.

Wappler said PSE’s Tacoma gas plant already has all the state permits it needs.

Sterud said the Tacoma plant was developed without the needed consultation with the Puyallup Tribe and that its scope has changed enough that it needs to apply for new permits.