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Beyond Coal: No Time To Lose

Beyond Coal Campaign event at the Portland Oregon Sierra Club office featuring speakers from the Oregon Sierra Club, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
The Oregon Sierra Club is working for an early shut down on Oregon's only coal fired power plant, owned by Portland General Electric and located in Boardman, Oregon on the Columbia River.
Beyond Coal:No Time To Lose
Introductory remarks were given by Betty Kaplan, Beyond Coal Campaign Chair for the Oregon Sierra Club, who gave an overview of the Campaign, voicing th e need to shut down the PGE Boasrdman plant as soon as possible.

First to speak was Catherine Thomasson from Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her Power Point Presentation was entitled, "How Coal and Climate Change Affect Our Health."

Thomasson began by contrasting past and present methods of coal extraction and then gives a little background of the Boardman plant: this "coal comes from the Powder River basin, in Montana and Wyoming.............Wyoming produces more coal that any other state in the U.S. - 40% of American coal comes from this area, about 80 trains a day, more than 1 million tons a day."
As the title of her talk says, Thomasson speaks mainly about the health effects of coal mining. She discusses mercury poisoning, ozone pollution, and the fine particulate matter resulting from the burning of coal to generate electricity.
"Particulate matter is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets, including acids such as nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. Particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller, once inhaled, can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. Particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller are called "fine particles." They can form when gases emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles react in the air."

Thomasson brings up graphs portraying greenhouse gas emissions by source and compares them to source emissions in Oregon. She also provides a pie chart and discusses Oregon's electrical consumption in 2007, when 38% of our electricity was generated from coal.
A great part of her presentation centers on global warming and it's significant consequences for Oregon, the planet and human health in general. Besides the familiar crisis of heat waves, droughts, flooding, reduced snow packs, environmental refugees, and drastic effects on agriculture, Thomasson also discusses the increased insect-borne and water borne diseases.
"The spread of diseases carried by insects is another secondary impact of global warming. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, black flies and sandflies are all hosts to infectious agents such as protozoa, bacteria and viruses. These agents carry diseases that they transmit to humans, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, even plague. Because they are cold-blooded, many disease-carrying insects are highly sensitive to temperature changes, and thrive in warmer conditions."

Though there is no one solution to the problem of global warming, Thomasson suggests that conserving energy and energy efficiency would bring us a long way towards that goal. Another important step would be the implementation of smart energy policies.
"Those individual steps are a good start, but we if we want to reduce carbon emissions on a big enough scale, we have to change policies. Some examples of policies that make a difference are:
* establishing programs for energy audits and funding energy retrofits, like insulation, in homes, businesses, schools and local government buildings;BR. * supporting public transportation and smart growth; and
* setting state and federal "renewable energy standards" to require that utility companies buy a larger portion of their electricity from renewable sources."

Next to speak was Kelley Beamer from Friends of the Columbia Gorge. Her talk was entitled: "How the Boardman Coal Plant Impacts the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area."

Kelly begins her slide show extolling the beauty of the Columbia Gorge. She says that the "Columbia Gorge has the largest concentration of water falls in the world, that it is a 88 mile corridor of diversity, with 800 species of wild flowers, 16 species of which exist nowhere else in the world."
According to Kelly, "air quality affects scenic, natural and cultural resources," and is damaging Native American petroglyphs which abound in the area. Air quality affects these resources, protected by The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act.
According to a Forest Service study, "nitrogen from ammonium and nitrate deposition ranged from 11.5 to 25.4 kg/ha for a 4.5 month study period. Deposition rates above 3 - 5 kg/ha per year are harmful to ecosystems. Fog water pH were quite acidic-three acidic episodes, characterized as extreme, were in the 3.6 - 3.8 pH range. (Similar to Vinegar.)
Ecosystem harm is certain."

Kelly also includes in her presentation a Report to the Yakama Nation by Dr. Dan Jaffe. This was a November 2005 study of the air quality data in the Columbia Gorge during a temporary shut down of the Boardman facility. The study found that air pollution levels were cut in half when compared to 11 other years of data.
According to Beamer, "PGE Boardman is currently uncontrolled for SO2, NOx and CO2; is the largest industrial source of SO2 and NOx and the second largest source of mercury in Oregon; pollutes the Columbia Gorge and 11 Class 1 watersheds and operates in violation of the Clean Air Act."
Because of these, "Friends of the Columbia Gorge and several other environmental organizations have taken legal action to compel compliance with the Clean Air Act."

Wrapping up, Robin Everett, an organizer for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign discussed PGE's response to public dissatisfaction with their 2040 Plan and recent release of their 2020 Plan.
But, "another ten years to address global warming, another ten years to address our health problems, another ten years to address unchecked pollution into the gorge is not acceptable. The problem is, PGE wants to violate the Clean Air act for another 10 years in exchange for shutting down in ten years. They've already been doing it for thirty years!"

Everett says that there are a multitude of State and Federal regulations that PGE has to get by in order to be in compliance with the clean Air Act. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says that PGE must have pollution control put on in a series of stages in 2011, 2014, and ending up in 2017 with the final big push. That totals over 1/2 a billion dollars in costs.
So, if PGE is to shut down early, they want to avoid those costs; they are not going to put all that on, and then shut the plant down. They want DEQ to say okay, we'll give you another ten years, and they also expect the EPA to allow them to pollute for another ten years."

According to Everett, there is Federal standard that is coming down soon, which is another way that we can force them to clean up the coal plant. EPA Compliance will be expected by 2015. PGE wants to go to Congress to get a Congressional Act allowing them to continue polluting until 2020.>BR> "That's not going to happen!.....and while all this is going on, PGE has not taken the 2040 Plan off the table. This is their back up plan. They are going to go to the Public Utilities Commission a month from now and say we are going to try for 2020, but make sure that you approve us running full until 2040 and approve the 1/2 billion dollars in pollution controls........they want us to stop opposing them, even though we know that 2020 is not going to work." "If they were serious about shutting down this plant, they would be looking at a date that complied with Federal and State law and shut the plant down early."

In the near future the Public Utility Commission will be looking at this plan and there will be opportunity for the public to testify. For notification of upcoming Public Utility Commission hearings go to Coal Free Oregon

Everett finishes up her remarks by emphasizing the need for energy efficiency and conservation as well as moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

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