2011: An Environmental Year in Review

2011 was a great year for the environment in Oregon, and the Sierra Club played BIG role in a number of key victories!

This year we have much to celebrate.  We’ve brought an and to an era of burning coal for electricty in Oregon.  We’ve helped homeowners across the state invest in rooftop solar and energy efficiency projects for their homes.  We’ve stopped the development of liquefied natural gas facilities and pipelines along Oregon’s coast.  We held the line during a challenging state legislative session– fighting to protect Oregon’s wolves and advance energy efficiency programs that will create jobs and save money for schools.  And, we led the fight against efforts to ramp up unsustainable logging on our state lands.

Here’s a look back at a few of our key success in 2011 and a look at the struggles we’ll contineu to face in 2012.  For a more complete review of our successes in 2011, check out the annual report that we released last month!


AN END TO AN ERA OF BURNING COAL FOR ELECTRICITY IN OREGON

After years of effort from the Sierra Club and our allies, the Pacific Northwest’s only two coal plants and biggest sources of harmful air pollution are on the path to being phased out.

In September, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement between the Sierra Club and Portland General Electric addressing the company’s violations of the Clean Air Act at the company’s coal plant in Boardman, Oregon. The agreement secures a court enforceable shutdown date of 2020 for Oregon’s only coal fired power plant, significant reductions in haze causing pollution in the near term, and the creation of a $2.5 million fund for restoration in the Columbia River Gorge and Hells Canyon, air pollution reduction, and the deployment of distributed renewable energy such as rooftop solar panels.

With a date-certain phaseout plan for Oregon’s only coal plant, the Sierra Club is now focusing on helping people across Oregon be part of shaping Oregon’s renewable energy future. Over the summer, our members have installed over 100,000 watts of solar on their roofs through our Go Solar with the Sierra Club Program! We have also reached out to thousands of homeowners to sign them up for Clean Energy Works, a program to weatherize homes across Oregon.

In 2010 we also worked with the Sierra Club’s Washington Chapter and other allies to secure a coal-free future for the Pacific Northwest.  On the heals of the announcement that the Portland General Electric’s Boardman coal plant would be shut down, the Governor of Washington announced a deal to close the Transalta coal plant in Centralia, Washington (just 90 miles north of Portland) in two phases beginning in 2020. One boiler for the 1,460 MW plant will close in 2020, the other in 2025, with interim pollution controls for haze being installed in 2013. Additionally, the company proposing to export as much as 80 million tons of coal from the Port of Longview across the Columbia River from Oregon has withdrawn its permits after getting caught misrepresenting the scope and impacts of its operation.

We will remain vigilant in 2012 to stop a variety of potential coal export schemes from Columbia River ports in Oregon and Washington.


DEFEATING LNG TERMINALS AND PIPELINES IN OREGON

In 2011, the Sierra Club and our allies defeated multiple proposals for liquified natural gas (LN G) terminals on Oregon’s coast and hundreds of miles of LNG-related pipleline that would have harmed forests, farms, and waterways across our state.

The year got off to a great start with a major decision on January 12.  The Clatsop County Commission voted 4-1 to withdraw its previous approval for 41 miles of gas pipeline intended to serve the proposed Oregon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal near Astoria. Sierra Club volunteers were actively involved in efforts to influence Clatop County decision-makers, and the vote wass a major setback for LNG development on the Columbia River – it was the first vote for three new commissioners swept in last November in a tide of anti-LNG sentiment. Then, in another victory in the struggle to prevent LNG development in Oregon, on March 9th, the Clatsop County Commission voted 4-1 to revoke Oregon LNG’s land use approval for its controversial pipeline and LNG import terminal.

Similarly, the federal Ninth Circuit Court on March 2nd threw out Bradwood Landing LNG’s license, finally killing its proposed LNG import terminal 20 miles up the Columbia River in Astoria. In late March, thanks to the tireless work and actions of thousands of Sierra Club members and citizens across the state, NW Natural Gas finally withdrew plans for the controversial Palomar Gas Transmission line which would have crossed the Mt. Hood National Forest and was initially proposed to import LNG from the proposed Bradwood Landing LNG terminal.

But, we weren’t just working to stop natural gas pipeline in Oregon!  In November, President Obama made a decision to delay the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This massive pipeline would bring oil mined from the tar sands underneath the wild boreal forests of Alberta to oil refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, further hooking the US on the dirtiest of fossil fuels. The Sierra Club was instrumental in this effort, participating in events from Portland to Washington, DC.

Nonetheless, LNG companies are now moving full steam ahead on plans to export gas from Wyoming and Colorado overseas through Oregon’s ports.  For example, Jordan Cove Energy plans to export from Coos Bay and build more than 200 miles of pipeline across wild rivers and old growth forests in southwest Oregon.  Similarly, the Oregon LNG company is eyeing export from a proposed site near Astoria, which could revive the 217-mile Palomar Pipeline that would stretch from central Oregon to the Pacific Coast. The Sierra Club will remain vigilant in 2012 to block these LNG export proposals.


PROTECTING OREGON’S STATE FORESTS

In 2011, the Sierra Club and our friends at the Wild Salmon Center, Northwest Steelheaders Association, and Trout Unlimited turned the tide in the effort to protect core wildlife and salmon habitat in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests.

In May, following intense efforts to educate Clatstop County Citizens about the value of their state forest lands, the Clatsop County Commission voted to send a letter to the Oregon Board of Forestry calling for them to use the ‘best available science’ in decision making and pressing for a more balanced approach to management in the Clatsop State Forest than what was decribed in a draft 10-year implementation plan developed by the Department of Forestry.  Because Clatsop County receives the most money from logging state forests, their stand for sound science and balance is significant, and marked a break from neighboring Tillamook County which has called for weakening forest protection rules. In the days before the Commission vote, the Sierra Club organized a community meeting attended by local members and supporters, many of whom later testified before the Commission in a hearing attended by roughly 200 people – one of the largest in Clatsop County history!

The Clatsop County letter also came about two weeks after a scathing report from OSU’s Institute for Natural Resources on the Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) draft plans which noted that the ODF consistently failed to used the ‘best available science.’

And, in November, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber issued a call to the Oregon Board of Forestry to create first-ever protected conservation areas on state forests. Such conservation areas would be managed primarily for values like clean water, fish, wildlife, and recreation. The Board of Forestry is now considering creating such protected areas as part of its work plan for 2012. Currently, Oregon’s state owned forests contain no significant areas off-limits from logging and roadbuilding for the long term, a fact the Sierra Club has been working to change. Over the past year, we have collected over 1200 signatures on a petition calling for the creation of state forest conservation areas, led hikes to state forest areas deserving of greater protection, and testified at numerous Board of Forestry meetings to help change management on state lands.

BANNING THE BAG IN PORTLAND AND CORVALLIS

In late July, the Portland City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits plastic shopping bags at checkstands of major grocers and certain big-box stores. The new rules took effect October 15. Mayor Sam Adams introduced the ban after the 2011 Legislature declined to enact Oregon-wide restrictions. Sierra Club staff and volunteers worked with our partner organizations to lobby and testify before the City Council in favor of this ordinance. Click here to learn more.

Similarly, in April the Sierra Club volunteers in Corvallis submitted to their City Council a Resolution in support of Senate Bill 536, which would ban single-use checkout bags. The Council passed the resolution on April 4th with a vote of 8 to 1. After the state legislature failed to act, Sierra Club volunteers launched a high profile campaign to ban disposable bags in Corvallis.  The ban is now being reviewed by a committee established by the Council and will be voted on in 2012.


STOPPING OLD GROWTH LOGGING

After years of denial, in 2011 the Bureau of Land Management finally conceded that it’s Western Oregon Plan Revision was fatally flawed. Originally proposed by the Bush administration to double logging across over 2 million acres of public land, the BLM’s Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) would have significantly increased clearcutting in old growth forests.

But in early July, the BLM finally conceded that the WOPR (pronounced ‘whopper’) is fatally flawed in a court filing in response to timber industry litigation to put the plan back in effect. Though Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar originally voided the WOPR in 2009, calling it legally indefensible, the timber industry won recent court rulings to put it back in effect, and until this week, it was unclear how the Obama administration would react. The Sierra Club has campaigned for years to stop the WOPR, which was originally approved by the outgoing Bush administration amidst a cloud of political tampering from the White House.


FIGHTING FOR ENDANGERED COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON

In early August, for the third time, federal judge James Redden rebuked the federal government’s inadequate plans to restore Columbia and Snake River salmon. In a case the Sierra Club has been involved in for years, the judged referred to the federal government’s “lack of, or at best, marginal compliance” with the Endangered Species Act and called their plan “neither a reasonable, nor a prudent, course of action.” The judge has ordered the government to present plans that include a wide range of options, including breaching salmon killing dams on the Snake River, by 2013.

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