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Environmentalists to sue PGE

Lawsuit will focus on pollution control equipment at utility's coal-fired plant
by: Toby van Fleet, Allison LaPlante (left) announces a lawsuit against Portland General Electric for pollution from its coal-fired power plant.

A group of environmental organizations said Tuesday, Jan. 15, that they would sue to force Portland General Electric to invest in federally mandated pollution control equipment for its Boardman coal-fired power plant.

The group planning to sue includes the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Hells Canyon Preservation Council. It is represented by the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in mid-March in U.S. District Court. PGE acknowledged receipt of the intent to sue this morning.

The Boardman plant is regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for emissions of harmful air pollutants. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality 2005 emissions inventory, the plant is the number one emitter of sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide, which both contribute to acid rain. It also releases toxins like mercury, as well as carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The coalition said that PGE has been operating the plant illegally.

Last fall, PGE announced a $300 million plan to clean up operations at the plant, which was built in 1976, in adherence with less stringent air quality standards than the ones that now exist. The Clean Air Act was adopted in 1977.

Mark Riskedahl, executive director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, called the plant an example of 'ridiculously archaic and outdated technology.'

The utility has been involved in a study with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to evaluate the plant's effect on the haze problem in the Columbia Gorge, around Mount Hood and over the Hell's Canyon area.

'What's perplexing about today's action is that this process is still very much under way,' said PGE spokesman Steve Corson.

But environmentalists said PGE wasn't doing enough.

'PGE has been required to make these changes for year,' said Allison LaPlante, the attorney representing the coalition.

LaPlante contended that PGE's plan to modernize the plant will not cut emissions nearly as much as it could. She said the plan will only reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by half when they could be cut by 98 percent.

In addition to air pollution, said Nat Parker of the Sierra Club, another issue is climate change. The Sierra Club is fighting construction of any new coal-fired plants across the country. Coal-fired power plants are a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Boardman plant produces about 20 percent of PGE's total power, enough for about 280,000 homes. As a whole, fossil fuels still account for more than half of PGE's power, 'too big of a chunk to simply wave a magic wand and have renewables meet the growing demand for energy.' Corson said, adding that PGE has been 'active and engaged' in the discussion about climate change and the push toward renewable energy.

The utility has invested in wind power and the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which was adopted last year by the Oregon Legislature and requires utilities in Oregon to provide a quarter of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

'Throughout the life of the plant, we've worked with regulators, both state and federal, to make sure we met all the applicable requirements,' said Corson.

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