Oregon Regulators Side with Dirty Utility Company

by Kelly Mitchell

December 10, 2010

Yesterday was a disappointing day in Oregon. The state’s Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) ignored the demands of the public and the well-being of Oregonians to support the interests of a dirty utility company, Portland General Electric (PGE).

Over the past few months, Oregonians have come out in force to call for the retirement of PGE’s Boardman coal-fired power plant by 2011. This dirty plant spews out over 15,000 tons of Sulfur Dioxide, polluting treasured areas like Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. It has already dumped hundreds of millions of tons of toxic coal ash into water that is used to irrigate crops.

Instead of calling for the immediate retirement of this dirty, dangerous coal plant, the EQC has followed the lead of other state agencies and rubber-stamped PGE’s recent proposal to keep the plant open until 2020.

This is an all too common case of government allowing corporations to poison our air and water for profit, while increasing the risk of catastrophic climate change. To add insult to injury, Oregon ratepayers will have to invest millions to keep this dirty, old coal plant in operation.

At today’s EQC hearing, one commissioner said this was the hardest decision she’s had to make in her career with EQC. She spoke of her relatives in Virginia, coal miners, who eventually died from exposure to poisonous conditions.

Another commissioner thanked PGE for its amazing leadership. He did so in front of a room of community members who have been fighting PGE’s 2020 plan since day one.

The commissioner’s praise of PGE, which has violated minimal pollution standards at the Boardman plant for over a decade, was too much for the Greenpeace volunteers in attendance, who stormed out of the room.
One volunteer, Steven James, expressed disillusion, saying, “these agencies are supposed to protect the environment and our health, why are they congratulating a dirty utility for polluting for another 10 years?”

If you had a 30-year-old car spewing black smoke as it struggled down the highway, you wouldn’t empty your savings account to keep it running for another year. But that’s exactly what PGE is asking Oregon ratepayers to do – to throw good money after bad, and prop up a coal plant for nine more years that has no role in our future. It is beyond disappointing that state agencies are now complicit in this plan.

For all the frustration yesterday’s decision brings, it’s worth noting that PGE had originally hoped to keep this plant open through 2040. PGE’s recent push to close Boardman in 2020 means dedicated activists have already prevented 20 years of needless toxic pollution. But even one more year is one too many.

It’s time for Governor-elect Kitzhaber to stand up for the people of Oregon. He has committed to reducing Oregon’s climate impact, while supporting a clean energy economy. He can demonstrate this commitment by calling for Boardman’s retirement in 2011 and pushing his state agencies to do everything in their power close this dirty, dangerous coal plant.

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

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