In a surprise announcement, Washington Governor Jay Inslee cited his conscience when he came out in opposition to two major fracked gas infrastructure projects in his state: Tacoma LNG and Kalama methanol refining. The news, announced Wednesday, caught almost everyone by surprise, including the broad community of advocates that have been fighting the projects for years.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has been a major opponent of Tacoma LNG. Sited on their ancestral homeland, the tribe has argued that the project is unsafe, an affront to the global climate, and a violation of their legal rights. In a written statement, Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud applauded the governor’s position.
“We welcome the governor’s strong and clear statement about the dire impacts of fossil fuels. Today he showed strong leadership on climate change.”Bill Sterud, Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman
“We welcome the governor’s strong and clear statement about the dire impacts of fossil fuels. Today he showed strong leadership on climate change.”
In early 2016, Sightline highlighted several disconcerting aspects of the project’s environmental review, raising a red flag about the precedent it set for review of fracked gas projects in Washington State. We analyzed the plant’s safety concerns and misrepresentations, provided expert witness testimony about failures in the permitting process, and requested further environmental review. Governor Inslee’s announcement highlighted the significant methane leakage associated with fracked gas production, a concern that compelled the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to require a supplemental review of the project before it determines whether to issue a permit for construction.
Inslee’s opposition to the giant Kalama methanol project was even more surprising.
The governor was initially an enthusiastic backer of the project when it was falsely sold to the public as a clean energy solution—a way to make plastics manufacturing in China less carbon intensive. Yet the petrochemical project claims did not stand up to inquiry. And now Inslee is living up to his promises: he’s evaluated the evidence, changed his mind, and he’s taking a stand for a fossil fuel-free Washington.
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It’s not clear precisely what effect Inslee’s opposition will have. Although the governor has no formal role in approving or denying permits for either project, state agencies in the executive branch tend to take cues from the governor’s office. The Department of Ecology could initiate supplemental reviews of their environmental impacts, creating delay and uncertainty for the project backers.
Sightline has helped to pull back the curtain on the true nature of the project. Proposed as the biggest gas-to-methanol facility in the world, the project is less about plastics than about serving as a fuel refinery for China’s growing fleet of vehicles. If built, it would become the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, not even counting the climate-disastrous impacts of actually burning the fuel. And it would unleash a titanic wave of fracking in northern British Columbia.
The news from the governor’s office comes just days after an Oregon state agency denied permits for the controversial Jordan Cove LNG export facility in Coos Bay. The on-again, off-again project would produce 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually in Oregon—making it the biggest single emitter in the state. It faces bitter opposition from landowners and indigenous communities who would be affected by its 229-mile pipeline.
For all three victories, a hefty share of credit is due to the many organizations that have lent their weight to the Power Past Fracked Gas Coalition, as well as the many thousands of Northwesterners who have refused to let Cascadia become a superhighway of fossil fuels.
Collectively, this movement—the Thin Green Line—is demonstrating that even the might of the fossil fuel industry cannot stand up to those who are dedicated to a future of clean energy and climate stability.