December 27, 2018 update: In response to a new Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) on the proposed Kalama facility, the SEI senior scientists who wrote this discussion brief have submitted comments to the Port of Kalama. Those comments can be downloaded here, as they were submitted.

A petrochemical plant at twilight.

A petrochemical plant at twilight. Photo credit: Getty/B&M Noskowski


The debate in Washington over a new chemical facility – to make methanol, a building block of plastics – has centered on its GHG emissions. Proponents have claimed the facility would yield significant climate benefits, but a government regulatory body invalidated a key permit because, in part, the local agencies that performed the environmental review had “failed to fully analyze the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the Project.”

In this brief, the authors use this case study to develop principles for assessing whether major industrial development is consistent with climate goals. They look at how GHG emissions effects are assessed, and show the importance of taking a more global perspective that examines the emissions effects beyond jurisdictional boundaries.

The authors also consider the importance of being able to determine, with confidence, that large long-lived industrial investments fit into a deeply low-carbon future. If new industrial facilities themselves are not consistent with the Paris Agreement goal to keep warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, then they could actually make a transition to a low-carbon future more difficult.