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Coal in the crosshairs.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Portland General Electric's coal-fired power plant near Boardman has been a prodigious polluter for three decades, but Oregon regulators finally are taking the tough measures necessary to improve air quality and protect public health.

Two years ago, the state Department of Environmental Quality ordered an impressive 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from the aging Boardman plant - a move that should limit exposure of unborn children to a potent toxin that can cause learning disabilities and other neurological problems.

Now, state regulators are proposing that PGE spend more than $400 million over the next decade to cut 80 percent of the acid-rain and haze-producing pollution - roughly 21,000 tons of particulate each year - spewed by the Boardman plant, which is located 150 miles east of Portland.

The DEQ's proposal needs some improvements, but even in its draft form it would dramatically improve air quality in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and in more than a dozen national parks and wilderness areas, from Hells Canyon to Mount Rainier.

Earlier this year, a new study estimated that the Boardman plant is responsible for more than half the haze in the gorge at times during the winter. Pollution from the plant contributes heavily to acid rain and fog in the gorge, clouding its world-famous vistas and causing untold damage to cultural and natural resources.

Then there is daunting matter of public health: Coal plant pollution causes an estimated 30,000 premature deaths nationwide each year, and that doesn't take into account nonfatal heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, asthma and other related health problems.

The Boardman plant was authorized in 1975, just in time to avoid new pollution control requirements in the federal Clean Air Act. Since then, pollution monitoring and controls have been nonexistent, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conceded the plant never should have been exempted from federal clean air protections in the first place.

Three years in the making, the state proposal requires the utility to install new burners and scrubbers by 2014 that would reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by 46 percent and sulfur dioxide by 80 percent. By 2018, PGE would be required to install a more advanced catalytic reduction system that would nearly double the reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions.

The draft plan has drawn mild criticism from PGE, which last year proposed a $300 million version that basically would have accomplished the first phase of the DEQ proposal. Given that PGE has gotten what amounts to a free pass for decades on pollution controls at Boardman - and given that the additional improvements would require only a modest rate increase for utility customers - PGE should embrace the state's proposal.

Environmental groups and gorge advocates make a more persuasive argument for accelerating the plan's timetable and ratcheting up the proposed pollution controls to require 90 percent emissions reductions. If those adjustments prove as technologically feasible as proponents argue - and if they do not pose an undue burden on ratepayers - the state should make the suggested changes and submit the revised plan to the state Environmental Quality Commission for final approval early next year.

More regulatory work remains to be done at the Boardman plant. For example, the DEQ's latest proposal does nothing to reduce the plant's greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide.

But that's a regulatory matter for another day.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; DEQ plan would cut pollution at Boardman plant
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 25, 2008
Previous Article:Your own house band.

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