Portland General Electric Violating Federal Clean Air Standards

The Boardman coal plant in eastern Oregon

US Environmental Protection Agency Says PGE Must Clean Up Dirty Boardman Coal-fired Power Plant

Portland, OR – Portland General Electric (PGE) has received a Notice of Violation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that PGE’s pollution levels at the Boardman coal-fired power plant are illegal under the federal Clean Air Act.  This notice arrives on the heels of months of public comment to state level agencies in which overwhelming public support was expressed for transition off-coal at Boardman at the earliest possible time in a way that also maintains strong air quality standards.

“Essentially the federal agency in charge of protecting the environment just told PGE that they are not complying with laws that are there to protect people from dangerous air pollution” said Cesia Kearns, Regional Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Oregon.  “We are pleased that EPA agrees with what we have been saying for a long time- Boardman is a dirty and dangerous plant.”

The Clean Air Act was created in 1970 to protect people and the environment from the damage that air pollution does to human health. Certain pollutants from coal-fired power, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, cause haze and acid rain, and contribute to four out of the five leading causes of death in the U.S.

“This notice of violation is yet another chapter in a three-decade saga of PGE’s attempts to avoid taking responsibility for Boardman’s pollution,” added Kearns.

PGE has been operating Boardman without modern pollution controls for more than thirty years.  In 1998 and 2004 PGE invested in changes to the Boardman plant that increased pollution, but failed to install adequate equipment to reduce pollution, as required by law.  According to the EPA notice, PGE has been violating a Clean Air Act standard that has required PGE to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution by 90% since those changes were made.

“PGE’s unwillingness to be reasonable and their history of skirting the law is finally catching up with them” said Mark Riskedahl, Executive Director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.   “In the end, this is about fairness.”

“PGE has an opportunity to take responsibility for their mistakes of the past and to exercise leadership for the future by transitioning Boardman before more pollution – and greater cost – falls upon Oregonians,” added Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

Upcoming decisions at the state level by the Public Utility Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could also determine the future of the Boardman plant.  Last week, the DEQ closed a public comment period on various options for PGE to meet state pollution standards while transitioning the plant early.  In the record of comments, the US Forest Service and US National Park Service expressed concern around PGE’s proposed plan to transition the Boardman plant in 2020 without installing the necessary pollution controls, noting that the plain fails to adequately address the high levels of haze causing pollution that impact 14 protected parks and wilderness areas, and the Columbia River Gorge.

This notice makes EPA the third government agency to weigh in recently on the unacceptable levels of pollution at the Boardman plant.

“EPA’s action removes all doubt that allowing PGE to operate Boardman without significant pollution reductions for an additional decade, as PGE proposed in its “2020 plan,” is illegal, threatens people’s health, and is simply irresponsible,” said Michael Lang of Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

PGE will need to meet with EPA officials to determine how they will bring the plant into compliance with the Clean Air Act.  PGE and EPA could agree to resolve PGE’s violations through a reasonable plan to transition Boardman off coal as quickly as possible – sooner than PGE’s proposed date of 2020.  The alternative for PGE is to install millions of dollars of pollution controls.  PGE may also face millions of dollars in penalties for their violations.

Conservation and public health advocates maintain that the best choice for avoiding future regulatory costs and protecting the health, environment, and pocketbooks of Oregonians is to transition Boardman to clean energy sources as soon as possible.

EPA Notice of Violation letter and supporting materials attached.

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