Coos Bay Coal Export Battle Heats Up

March 9, 2012

Proposals to export coal from Oregon to China will increase global warming pollution, coal related health problems, and contribute to harmful mercury build up in Oregon's rivers.

In June 2011, seeking to learn more about the public health and environmental impacts associated with coal export plans, the Sierra Club filed a simple request to the Port of Coos Bay under the Oregon Public Records Act to learn more about their plans to develop a major coal export terminal. Media reports had referenced confidential agreements the Port was involved in with unnamed coal companies, but little information was publicly available.

Because the Sierra Club would not profit from the information and would instead use it to educate the public, we requested a waiver of fees. In response, the Port of Coos Bay went on the attack. They demanded that we supply them with unnecessary and invasive information about Sierra Club board members and claimed it would cost almost $10 per page to view over 2000 pages of public documents they had in their possession. Of the approximately $20,000 they sought, nearly $17,000 of it was for attorney’s fees alone, billed at $200 per hour.

As it became clear that the Port was attempting to block access to the public records by charging unreasonable fees, we made an appeal to the Coos County District Attorney. After considering the facts, the District Attorney agreed that charging nearly $17,000 in attorneys fees was ‘unreasonable.’ In a late February decision, the District Attorney wrote eloquently, “the Public Records Law as a whole embodies a strong policy in favor of the public’s right to inspect public records. If an agency places a high cost on the public in order for the public to obtain access to the records, the rights of the public to have access will be hindered, chilled or even denied.” Even the Coos Bay World newspaper, which to date has shown little sympathy for the Sierra Club’s efforts to block coal export, editorialized in our favor in the public records case.

Unfortunately, the Port of Coos Bay is now appealing the District Attorney’s decision to circuit court. In the meantime, they have charged another organization, Eugene based Beyond Toxics, $22,000 for public records related to hauling coal by train through Eugene and other communities along the route of the Coos Bay Rail Link.

Stay tuned, this battle is just beginning.


Big Coal Eyes Oregon – Oregonians Fight Back

January 19, 2012

Big coal companies are eying Oregon. With coal fired power plants closing across the Northwest and nation due to public demand for cleaner energy, big coal companies want to export the dirty fossil fuel to fast-growing countries in Asia were environmental standards are far lower than in the U.S.

In 2011, the Port of St. Helens along the Columbia River, and the Port of Coos Bay on the southern Oregon Coast, revealed they were in confidential negotiations with unnamed coal companies seeking to export tens of millions of tons of coal to Asia. The Ports have kept the plans secret for months.

But things have been heating up recently. In late December, the Oregon Department of State Lands approved a controversial dredging in north spit of Coos Bay necessary for huge ships that export coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG). On January 18, a coalition of conservation groups and local citizens appealed the decision, arguing that the dredging would cause significant harm to water quality in Coos Bay, and that environmental and public health impacts of exporting LNG and coal were never considered. Read the coalition press release.

Meanwhile, the Port of St. Helens has announced a public meeting to hear from two companies vying to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River. This is in addition to a coal export terminal proposed for the Washington side of the river in Longview, and another in Bellingham, WA. Read the press release on St. Helens’ coal export plans.

The Sierra Club is fighting multiple coal export plans in the Pacific Northwest as well as plans to export LNG.


Pacificorp Still Hooked on Dirty Coal

November 11, 2011

Massive open pit coal mine in the Powder River Basin along the Wyoming/Montana border. Coal is dirty business.

Pacificorp, Oregon’s second largest utility, is hooked on coal.

The company has plans to continue long-term operation of multiple dirty coal plants to provide energy to its Oregon customers, retrofitting ancient coal facilities despite the cost to consumers and the benefits of switching to clean energy.

In filings before the Oregon Public Utility Commission in its 2011 ‘integrated resource plan,’ the company has made it clear it will keep burning dirty coal long into the future, diverting ratepayer money away from renewable energy and energy efficiency and into costly investments that will extend the life of a number of their coal plants.

Pacificorp’s coal problem is so bad, Oregon regulators are starting to take a hard look at the company’s plans and are poised to make a decision as soon as December 6 that could force the company to seek alternatives to continuing to operate its coal fleet in perpetuity – alternatives like shutting some of the dirtiest plants down and replacing them with renewable energy and investments in energy efficiency.

Unlike Portland General Electric, which has agreed to close its Boardman coal plant in 2020 rather than extend its life by decades, Pacificorp does not operate any coal plants in Oregon. However, it either owns or gets power from burning coal and coal mining in states like Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, supplying Oregonians across the state with dirty energy.

Concerned about Pacificorp’s addiction to dirty coal?

Write a letter to the editor of the Oregonian newspaper:

Here are some key points to make:

1) Pacificorp is doing Oregon customers a disservice by spending ratepayer money burning coal rather than investing in clean alternatives.

2) The company should provide more details on the costs and risks associated with continuing to burn coal, rather than closing old plants and investing money in cleaner alternatives, like generating renewable energy in Oregon.

3) The Oregon Public Utility Commission should reject Pacificorp’s latest plans to invest in dirty coal. Portland General Electric did the right thing by closing their dirty Boardman coal plant, Pacificorp should do the same.

4) Pacificorp should be investing Oregon ratepayer money into projects that create Oregon jobs through energy efficiency and home weatherization, as well as developing new renewable energy sources.

Here’s how to send a letter to the Oregonian:

Letters to the editor, The Oregonian
1320 S.W. Broadway
Portland, Or., 97201

Or e-mail to: letters@oregonian.com

They may also be faxed to (503) 294-4193.

Please limit letters to 150 words. Please include your full address and daytime phone number, for verification only. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.


PGE, Sierra Club and Allies Settle Boardman Coal Emission Lawsuit

July 20, 2011

PGE will be legally bound to close its harmful Boardman coal plant within 10 years and significantly reduce its acid-rain causing pollution under an agreement struck between the utility, the Sierra Club and our allies.

The end of burning coal in Oregon is not just a good idea for our clean air, clean water and public health, it will be a certainty within 10 years under a deal negotiated by the Sierra Club and our allies.

After years of legal and administrative wrangling, Portland General Electric (PGE) has finally agreed to settle a Clean Air Act lawsuit over harmful emissions from its Boardman coal fired power plant in eastern Oregon. A coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center – represented by the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center – brought suit against PGE in 2008 over Clean Air Act violations dating back decades.

Once approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the courts, the legal settlement will cement in a 2020 closure date PGE pledged to abide by last year after receiving approvals from state agencies. It will also lead to greater reductions in acid rain causing sulfur dioxide than PGE originally agreed to, and $2.5 million in funding over the next decade for environmental restoration in the Columbia Gorge and northeast Oregon – two areas negatively affected by Boardman’s air pollution since the late 1970’s –  as well as investments in reducing air pollution and local renewable energy projects to replace fossil fuels, like rooftop solar.

Here is a link to the Sierra Club’s press release, noting that the Boardman closure marks a milestone in the Club’s national Beyond Coal campaign, which has to date led to the phaseout of some 30,000 megawatts of coal at 153 coal plants, whose carbon emissions total the equivalent of roughly 36 million automobiles.

In addition to creating a legally binding shutdown date that PGE cannot wiggle out of, as well as securing greater reductions in harmful sulfur dioxide than PGE had agreed to last year, PGE has also agreed to pay $2.5 million into a fund managed by the Oregon Community Foundation which will provide:

  • $1 million for habitat protection and environmental restoration in the Columbia River Gorge;
  • $625,000 for habitat protection and restoration in the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and Wallowa Mountains;
  • $500,000 for local clean energy projects, such as solar panels on houses; and
  • $375,000 for community-based efforts to reduce air pollution.

“Oregon is among those states showing that we can do better than the dirty business of coal,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Region Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.  “A healthier and brighter future is arriving in America.”


State Legislative Update – End of Session Edition

June 16, 2011

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

The 2011 Oregon Legislature is entering its final days. Scheduled to wrap up work by June 30, some are predicting the session will end as early as the week of June 20. Many major budget bills are done and on the way to the Governor’s desk. The Sierra Club will be scoring the votes of legislators and the legislature as a whole once the session is over, but based on work completed so far, this is shaping up to be a fairly lackluster session for the environment.

While there have been some positive accomplishments, most notably a significant overhaul of Oregon’s bottle bill, and strong prospects for passage of school weatherization legislation early next week (see below), the Sierra Club and other conservation groups have had to focus on defense, stopping bad bills that would: ramp up unsustainable logging on state forests; make it easier to shoot wolves; overturn voter approved bans on hunting cougars with dogs; stop the DEQ from adopting new water quality protection rules; exempt biomass energy from greenhouse gas reporting programs; and expedite state permitting for proposed LNG pipelines.

Meanwhile, many positive bills have stalled, including a ban on single use plastic bags; an expansion of Oregon’s marine reserve system; a ban on the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s food containers; the creation of a system of protected conservation areas on state lands; and an effort create jobs through energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings.

Despite this, a key priority of the Sierra Club and Governor John Kitzhaber is on the right path in the legislature’s last days. HB 2960, the ‘cool schools’ bill, will set up a fund to allow schools across the state to weatherize and upgrade their heating and cooling systems. This will create jobs, save school districts money on utility bills over the long term so that more money can be invested in education, and make schools more comfortable and better learning environments for kids. This bill passed the House early last week, and is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Monday, June 20. Please email your Senators in support of HB 2960 TODAY!

Thank you for your support this legislative session. Check out our legislative tracker for more specific status updates on a range of environmental bills we’ve worked on this session.


Sierra Club, RS Energy Launch Rooftop Solar Campaign

June 13, 2011

For Immediate Release:   June 13, 2011

Sierra Club, RS Energy Launch Rooftop Solar Campaign
Program will save homeowners thousands and create green jobs
by offering best solar installation rates in Oregon

Portland, OR – Today, the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Tualatin-based RS Energy announced a groundbreaking agreement that will provide rooftop solar installations at rates that almost every Oregon homeowner can afford.  The discounts will be offered to the Sierra Club’s approximately 20,000 members in the state, as well as to homeowners who choose to become Sierra Club members.

“We’re thrilled about this opportunity to empower our members and supporters to save thousands of dollars on their energy bills and be part of shaping Oregon’s clean energy future,” said Brian Pasko, Director of the Sierra Club’s Oregon Chapter.  “Moving Oregon beyond the use of coal as an energy source has been a key priority for the Sierra Club for years, and this new program is integral to the success of that campaign. We recognize that our own members and citizens across the state have a real opportunity to influence Oregon’s future energy mix, and we’re excited to be able to help them seize that opportunity!”

The program guarantees one of the lowest solar installation rates in Oregon and is estimated to save the average homeowner $10,000 or more on their energy bills over the life of the installed system.  Typical customers will see immediate reductions of 25% or more on their electricity costs.

After an extensive review, the Sierra Club chose to partner with local solar installer RS Energy, which enjoys a reputation as one of Oregon’s premier solar installers.  RS Energy shares the Sierra Club’s commitment to creating a vibrant clean energy economy and intends to make a financial contribution to the Sierra Club’s work to protect Oregon’s environment for every kilowatt hour of solar installed through the program.

“We are excited to work with the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club to bring affordable, clean energy to Oregon homeowners. This innovative partnership reduces Oregonians’ electric bills, cuts our dependence on fossil fuel, and creates one green job for every seven projects completed,” said David Richards, a Partner at RS Energy.

Interested homeowners will receive a free solar evaluation of their home, and will be presented with a range of affordable solar options tailored to fit a particular homeowner’s energy use and financial needs.

“If you asked me six months ago what I thought about solar in Oregon, I would have said ‘no way’ – that you’d have to be rich to install rooftop solar in our rainy region,” said Pasko.  “But, after our work with RS Energy I am so convinced of the promise of this program that I was the first to sign up!” Last week Pasko and his wife installed 18 solar panels on their home in Boring, Oregon. “I’m ready to tell my neighbors across Oregon about this amazing opportunity to save a lot of money, encourage energy independence, create new jobs, and protect our planet,” said Pasko.

More information about the “Go Solar with the Sierra Club” program can be found at http://www.oregon.sierraclub.org/solar.

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EPA Proposes Strong Safeguards to Protect Children from Hazardous Pollution from Coal Plants

March 16, 2011

The Boardman Coal plant is a major source of mercury pollution and other harmful air emissions in Oregon.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a critical air quality standard to protect Americans against life-threatening air pollution such as mercury, arsenic and other air toxics from power plants, which are currently allowed to emit hazardous air pollution without national limits. The long-overdue and critically important mercury and air toxic standard updates Clean Air Act provisions and establishes emission limits for the nation’s fleet of power plants. According to EPA, each year the new protection will save as many as 17,000 lives and prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma.

“As a father of two young children, I am proud to see the EPA announcing such strong protections from toxic mercury,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “These protections will benefit women, children and all Americans concerned about the dirty coal industry making them sick.”

Air toxics include some of the most hazardous air pollutants to human health, and most of them come from dirty power plants. In addition to mercury and arsenic, these polluters emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin and acid gases that threaten public health and child development. Even in small amounts these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature death.

Mercury emitted from power plants is particularly harmful because it builds up in people who eat mercury-contaminated fish. A potent neurotoxin especially dangerous to small children and fetuses, mercury exposure even in small amounts has been linked to developmental disorders and learning disabilities. According to EPA studies, the mercury problem in the U.S. is so widespread that at least 1 in 12 – and as many as 1 in 6 – American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put a fetus at risk.

“For decades, Big Coal and Big Oil have fought Clean Air Act protections that would have reduced pollution from their facilities, even though coal plants are the largest sources of dangerous air pollution,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “I am sure that polluters will try to weaken these protections for our children, but the American people will not let that happen.”

As outlined by the Clean Air Act, the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson will set new air toxics pollution limits based on the pollution reduction methods already in use at the cleanest and best-performing facilities in the nation. This approach will lead to safeguards that both reduce air pollution and protect public health. These protections will also help the economy, as a recent study of the 1990 Clean Air Act showed that existing standards contributed $2 trillion in economic activity to the economy while saving lives.