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WVDEP weighs potential permit for plant in Pleasants County

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality held a virtual meeting Tuesday to address public comments on the potential construction of a methanol plant in Pleasants County.

According to previous coverage, West Virginia Methanol Inc. decided to utilize West Virginia for the construction of a $350 million plant, which is set to be located 1.3 miles west of Waverly, due to its potential for industrial and economic growth, as well as the ample presence of natural gas and the need for methanol in the region.

WVDEP Reviewing Engineer Joseph Kessler discussed the comprehensive look the WVDEP took at what it will take for construction that is compliant with both state and federal standards and regulations.

“The permitting process, while important, is just one rung in the ladder,” Kessler said.

Within the process, primary and secondary concerns of protecting public health and welfare, respectively, are taken into account through analysis of attainment, or proper regulation and healthy levels determined by scientific research, of criteria and hazardous air pollutants.

“All of West Virginia is in attainment with those standards for the first time in a long time,” Kessler said.

The meeting on Tuesday pertained to the attainment of the pre-construction permit, which was classified as being a minor source, meaning that the plant is set to produce no more than 100 tons of pollutant emissions per year. This does not include other factors such as greenhouse gases and non-air quality issues.

The permit is designed to ensure that compliance of air quality standards is followed and to provide a framework for the public to have knowledge of the development in their community.

According to Kessler, the plant will produce a maximum of 330,000 gallons of methanol per day and have eight 375,000 gallon storage tanks on site.

The initial announcement of construction was made in October 2020. In November, the original application was submitted and was revised in March of 2021.

On Tuesday, organizations and citizens both in support and against the construction were able to share their thoughts.

“If the Division of Air Quality decides not to reconsider this preliminary decision there will be a human toll,” said Ben Hunkler, a representative from Concerned Ohio Valley Residents.

Hunkler stated that he would like the WVDEP to address the potential greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a more cumulative analysis to look at greater environmental impact.

Groups such as the Ohio Valley Environmental Council, Sierra Club and Moms Clean Air Force of WV sided with Hunkler, stating other concerns such as the failure to fully calculate pollutant emissions and potential health risks, as well as the lack of a precedent.

On the other side of the issue, organizations such as Boilermakers 667, the Pleasants County Development Authority and the Gas and Oil Association of WV are in support of the establishment, citing its ability to boost the local economy and the implementation of technology that will take public health into account.

“It is a use of West Virginia-produced natural gas to create jobs and investments for Pleasants County and the surrounding area,” said Charlie Burd, the executive director of the Oil and Gas Association of WV. “I am convinced this is a good project that will hire hard-working, well-deserved West Virginians.”

The official comment period has been extended through May 7 at 5 p.m. Comments can be sent virtually to Joseph.R.Kessler@wv.gov with the subject line “West Virginia Methanol” or mailed physically to Joe Kessler, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th St., SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

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