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State's flawed environmental oversight persists.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Ron Sadler

It was almost 13 years ago now that the Oregon Progress Board issued the outstanding document entitled "Oregon State of the Environment Report 2000." This report was the first scientifically credible and comprehensive assessment of Oregon's environment and the state programs in place to effectively manage it.

The document summarizes a key finding as follows: "The state's existing environmental data collection and management system must be improved to effectively measure ecological conditions, trends or risks. Measuring ecological conditions, trends and risks is fundamentally different from the problems Oregon's environmental programs were initially established to address. Resolving them will require new approaches. ..."

Unfortunately, while many states have redesigned their environmental management machinery to meet current needs and to mesh with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act at the federal level, Oregon has made no significant effort to improve its policies and procedures. We continue to struggle forward using management machinery that has clearly been documented as being inadequate and obsolete.

A different situation exists in the state of Washington. Washington has in place its State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA.

SEPA applies to all state agencies, counties, cities, ports and special districts. Any project or proposal having significant environmental effects proposed by or under the jurisdiction of any of these entities must undergo an explicitly designed environmental analysis before any pertinent decisions are made. The analytical process is under the direction of a designated lead agency, and incorporates all other applicable governmental entities as well as the general public.

Both Oregon and Washington are currently involved with major energy-related project proposals. Oregon is dealing with the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal proposal on Coos Bay, and Washington is dealing with the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export terminal proposal near Longview.

Both proposals are in the beginning stages of the development of a draft environmental impact statement by a federal agency ultimately responsible for issuing a permit. In the case of Coos Bay, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the responsible federal agency, while in Longview the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction.

It is very interesting to see how things are progressing in each state.

In Oregon, the Jordan Cove applicant has sought various agreements and permits at the local, county and state levels even though the federal environmental impact statement process is barely under way and a decision at the federal level is at least a year away.

In Washington, the Department of Ecology has clearly stated that "decisions about permits cannot be made by local, state and federal agencies until after the final environmental impact statement is issued."

In Oregon, Jordan Cove is engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign, even involving outside paid lobbying groups, to build broad public and institutional support for the project. Such activities on the part of an applicant before the completion of the environmental impact statement are prohibited under the NEPA regulations, which FERC apparently has chosen to ignore to date.

In Washington, the Department of Ecology states "A limited amount of information submitted by the applicant will be available (to the public) at this point in the process." In Oregon, the federal environmental impact statement being prepared by FERC is not viewed as an integral part of a decision process, but rather as a listing of the environmental impacts of a pre-determined decision. It is apparently not viewed as an essential element of information leading to the issuance of the various county and state permits under consideration.

In Washington, the situation is much more efficient and logical.

Cowlitz County, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Corps of Engineers have formally joined together and will conduct a single process leading to one joint environmental impact statement. This joint document will fully comply with both the state Environmental Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

In Oregon, chaos reigns. The public is unsure as to how, when, where, and to whom to submit comments and participate meaningfully in the process, and the true role and legal requirements of a valid environmental impact statement are not clearly understood.

In Washington, the public participation process is clearly identified and facilitated, and the role and purpose of an environmental impact statement is made explicit.

The Oregon State of the Environment Report 2000 got it right: We have an environmental management mess on our hands. But why worry? After all, we do have a world-class Football Performance Center to be proud of.

Ron Sadler of North Bend is a retired Bureau of Land Management employee with experience in National Environmental Policy Act implementation.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 19, 2013
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