Jay Inslee
Washington Governor Jay Inslee didn't anticipate a groundswell of opposition to plans to build a methanol refinery in Tacoma. Governor's Office

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When Governor Jay Inslee took office, he was dubbed by environmentalists the nation's "greenest governor," based on his stellar environmental record. In the years since, the governor has faced Republican obstruction against plans to tackle climate change.

At the same time, the governor's office also quietly backed an effort to establish the world's largest methanol refinery in Tacoma, as revealed by internal records obtained by the The Tacoma News Tribune:

For nearly three years before a tsunami of public opposition arose against the methanol plant proposed for Tacoma’s Tideflats, Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration worked behind the scenes to help the project get moving toward construction.

The project took root in Olympia starting in March 2013 with a sales pitch as a promising business opportunity with global greenhouse-gas benefits, state records show. A mutual courtship ensued that officials say is routine.

Read the whole thing. The Inslee administration, drawing on connections with other influential Democratic party insiders, worked closely with Northwest Innovation Works and its Chinese financiers to advance the methanol refinery project until this February. By then, local opposition had swelled and the company agreed to put the project on hold.

"Pausing isn't what we want," Dionna Klein, a protester from Tacoma, told the Tribune. "We want it eliminated."

Seattle-based environmental analyist Eric de Place, with the Sightline Institute, said he's never seen a community as "flat out pissed off" over a refinery proposal as in Tacoma. Concerns centered on its climate impacts—natural gas for the plant would come from fracking in Canada—water usage, industrial waste, and potential spills.

"People are dealing with legacy of industrial pollution," de Place said, "and they're kind of grumpy about the idea of having a giant refinery in the middle of town."

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And the project's supporters have not presented evidence for the idea that the plant represents a greener way to produce plastics, de Place said. "I think the governor's office sincerely believed that this was a greener way to create petrochemicals than ways they've been produced in China," he said. "But what's been frustrating is... there's no evidence to show that it's actually cleaner."

The governor now says he didn't expect such an outcry against the project. "I hadn’t gotten deep enough into it to consider that," Inslee told the Tribune.

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