Governor Kitzhaber vs. Coal

Michael O'Leary

"After considering the comments received, DEQ has concluded that a further water quality certification - called a 401 certification - is appropriate for the project" ~Oregon DEQ 2.11.14

Governor Kitzhaber vs. Coal

BNSF in the Columbia River Gorge

Coal. It just seems like one of those obvious, not-in-my-house, kinda things, doesn’t it.

Well, so, it may come as a shock to learn that just yesterday Governor Kitzhaber’s DEQ gave their final approval for air, stormwater, and water quality permits for Morrow Pacific's Columbia River coal export terminal.

Now, before you tweet, email, and call Governor Kitzhaber to express your outrage, wait till you hear the rest of the story. It actually gets worse… before it gets better.

If it’s a shock that the DEQ has now green-lighted millions of tons of coal dust as being just fine within the confines of some fairly narrow permit scopes, then it has to be nothing short of mind-boggling that for over a year now the DEQ has maintained that those same millions of tons of coal dust just doesn't merit the DEQ's best water quality protection review - the 401.

What could possibly go wrong, right? SMH.

Well, I bet, then, that you can imagine the cheers, shouts, and high-fives erupting from Oregon’s clean air and clean water advocates as we heard the good news yesterday that Governor Kitzhaber’s DEQ finally reversed itself and declared - at long last - that coal pollution just might harm water quality on the Columbia, and as a result the DEQ is now requiring the coal company to attempt to get a 401 Water Quality Certification – raising the biggest roadblock yet that the DEQ has put in front of the coal train fast track.

So how’d we get the Governor’s DEQ to make this huge reversal?

Well, you likely already know because you likely were a part of it. The DEQ's tally of the more than 16,000 public comments received on these coal permits is land-sliding 82% against coal.

OK, though, does the cynic in you might wonder if public comment made the difference?

Well, no need for reading tea-leaves. Just take a look at what the DEQ said on the record:

"After considering the comments received, DEQ has concluded that a further water quality certification - called a 401 certification - is appropriate for the project" ~Oregon DEQ 2.11.14

Well done, BlueOregonians, well done.

But the threat from coal exports is not dead yet.

Yes, Oregon’s 401 permit standards have already worked to block the Bradwood LNG terminal on the lower Columbia River. And it sure would be nice to see the 401 process go 2-0 against fossil fuels and block coal exports next. But the clean water watchdogs already worry that this newly required 401 Water Quality Certification, while a good framework, may already be too narrowed in geographic scope to assess all the pollution risks that it should.

So what do you think happens next?

Will Governor Kitzhaber's DEQ keep ultimately approving coal permits on the Columbia?

Or will the Governor draw the line?

You tell me.

Better yet, tell the Governor.

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