Wednesday, January 20, 2010

HCPC Works to Clean Up Air Pollution Over Wilderness Areas

Hells Canyon and Eagle Caps are affected by the Boardman coal plant

Oregon’s only coal-burning electric plant near Boardman
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

A coal-fired electric plant near Boardman, Oregon has been polluting the air over Hells Canyon and the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. Hells Canyon Preservation Council is working to force this plant to stop polluting. In 2008, a coalition including HCPC filed a lawsuit to force Portland General Electric (PGE) to clean up the emissions from this plant. PGE owns and operates the plant, the only coal-fired power plant in Oregon. The aging plant is one of only two in the entire western half of the United States that has avoided installing modern pollution controls since it was constructed in the 1970s. The lawsuit argues that PGE has operated the plant in violation of the Clean Air Act. In September 2009, the coalition won a court decision that allowed the suit to continue. The Court denied PGE’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and ruled in favor of allowing the coalition’s issues to proceed.

In a recent development, on January 14, 2010, PGE announced that it wants to close the plant in 2020 after installing $45 million dollars of pollution controls. Theses controls would partially clean up the mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions but would not affect the sulfur dioxide emissions. Previously, PGE had planned to operate the plant until 2040 after installing more extensive pollution controls by 2017. The coalition has been pushing for a shutdown by 2014.

The plant is the largest stationary source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in Oregon. Sulfur and nitrogen compounds from the plant react in the air to create the smoggy haze. These compounds are also believed to contribute to creating acid rain which can harm fish, vegetation, and water quality. Acid rain also can destroy Native American rock art. This is particularly important in Hells Canyon and the Columbia River Gorge.

The Boardman plant is the second largest mercury polluter in Oregon. Mercury accumulates in fish and then creates documented health hazards for people who consume them. It is likely that the wildlife eating these fish may suffer as well. The presence of mercury in the food chain is a concern for ecosystems and the overall environment.

An analysis commissioned by the US Forest Service showed that the plant is polluting the air over protected wilderness areas and national parks, according to an analysis commissioned by the US Forest Service. Haze from the coal-fired plant obscures the views in protected natural areas on public lands throughout the Pacific Northwest. Locally, the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area was affected for 61 days per year, Hells Canyon for 41 days per year, and the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness for 18 days per year, according to the analysis.

Portland General Electric (PGE) operates the plant through a permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). We believe the plant was improperly authorized in 1975 under outdated standards and it has not been held to current clean air standards. Since 2006, HCPC has been working with a coalition to pressure PGE and DEQ into cleaning up Oregon’s only coal-fired electric plant. PGE’s latest proposal will require approval from DEQ as well as The Oregon Public Utility Commission and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Hells Canyon Preservation Council and the coalition will continue to press for the strictest smokestack controls over the shortest timeframe possible.

HCPC’s coalition partners are the Sierra Club, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Columbia Riverkeeper. We are represented by the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

Brian Kelly,
Restoration Coordinator

Information from this article came from DEQ, The Oregonian, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

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