Continued from page 1

Environmentalists so far have not use aggressive rhetoric against the methanol projects, and they’re wrapped up in fights against coal and oil terminals in the region. Officials at Hood River, Ore.-based Columbia RiverKeeper insist that any new plant or refinery on the Columbia River “deserves a closer look,” but they haven’t offered any criticisms of methanol - yet.

“We’re working to learn more about it,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, the agency’s director.

He did not respond to questions about whether his group would shy away from attacking methanol proposals to avoid the appearing insensitive to the area’s desire for high-paying jobs.

In America’s Southeast, environmentalists acknowledge that proposed methanol plants are likely to receive the permits to start construction. The plans have won a lot of political support because of the huge proposed investments and promise of high-paying jobs.

At the Port of South Louisiana, a New Zealand-backed firm recently received a crucial air quality permit from the state to start building a $1.3 billion dollar plant that has support from Gov. Bobby Jindal. Developers from a Dutch fertilizer company have restarted a mothballed methanol plant in Beaumont, La., and they plan to build a second billion-dollar plant in the same area.

In Louisiana, opposition has centered primarily around further expansion of an industrial area next to residential dwellers - an issue that Northwest Innovation won’t face here - and air quality. While methanol plants aren’t known to emit more toxins than other plants, environmentalists say that air pollution is accumulating from an growing number of factories on the Gulf Coast.

“They can make great attempts to preserve the environment. They still will have a … negative impact,” said Wilma Subra, a New Iberia, La.,-based environmental consultant and veteran activist said in an interview.

Industry analysts note that demand for methanol is growing in Asia, which will add pressure for more manufacturing capacity in the Northwest. Most chemical plants are a double-edge sword: They offer higher-paying jobs and larger capital investment than other industries but are a greater risk because of spills or contamination. But methanol is among the cleanest of chemical plants, said financial analyst Marc Laughlin of Houston-based IHS Chemical.

“Of all the chemicals, this is probably one of the best to get in your area.”


Information from: The Daily News,