With the conclusion of September’s Department of Environmental Quality hearings on air quality standards for PGE’s Boardman Coal Plant, the process of deciding what to do with this big polluter has inched a step closer to completion. DEQ held hearings in five communities around the state, and the result was they got to hear why Oregonians from Portland to the state’s southern reaches favor adopting the strongest possible pollution standards.
First some background. DEQ is in the process of deciding whether to stick to its June recommendation that PGE either install expensive pollution controls on the Boardman Plant—which would allow it to stay open until 2018 or 2020—or else close the plant sometime between 2015 and 2016, and avoid the need for most of those new controls.
The agency is also deciding whether to approve an alternative proposal by PGE that it be allowed to do pretty much what it wanted to do in the first place—run the coal plant until 2020 while avoiding the more costly pollution controls. Public support for the standards proposed by DEQ in June is strong, as shown in this latest round of hearings.
The hearing in Portland, on September 21st, unsurprisingly drew the largest crowd. According to my estimate, around two-thirds of the roughly 150 who showed up came to support the stronger pollution standards. As has been the case at past hearings, almost everyone speaking up for PGE’s alternate 2020 plan was either a PGE employee or representing some industry or business group with direct ties to the Boardman Plant.
Meanwhile the Sierra Club and other groups pushing for tight pollution standards were joined in Portland by a diverse group of folks from varying walks of life—including close to forty students from five Portland area colleges. At the Eugene hearing nearly everyone in a crowd of about fifty sported “Beyond Coal” T-shirts, or took to the microphone to call for pollution standards at least as tight as those already proposed by DEQ. Again the youth presence was noticeable, with about fifteen students from U of O and Lane Community College joining the Beyond Coal crowd.
I didn’t attend the other three hearings in person, but I hear a contingent of students from Southern Oregon University made their way to the hearing in Medford to urge the DEQ to stand up to PGE. I also know the good folks at Columbia Riverkeeper where recruiting some of their membership to a hearing in the Dalles.
In short, DEQ got to hear from communities across the state just why dealing with the biggest source of air pollution in Oregon is so important. I’d like to commend the agency for holding hearings throughout the state—and especially appreciate the DEQ staff who drove all over Oregon in their quest for public input.
I truly hope DEQ got the same message from these hearings that I did: people across Oregon, all of whom are affected by pollution from the Boardman Plant in some way, are calling on regulators to implement scientifically based pollution standards that protect our air and scenic areas. The draft standards proposed by DEQ in June would fulfill this obligation, and now is no time to backslide. Oregon needs the DEQ to stick up for air quality. That means standing up to PGE and rejecting the company’s alternative “2020 plan.”