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Editorial: A good starting point

The Oregon Court of Appeals made the right move June 19 when it upheld the gorge commission’s Regional Air Quality Strategy for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

However, it’s important to note that the court’s job wasn’t to evaluate the effectiveness of that strategy, only to make sure it doesn’t violate existing law, including the National Scenic Area Act. Which they determined it doesn’t.

Contrary to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge contentions, evaluating the efficacy of existing measures is a reasonable strategy in the gorge and here’s why: Studies of pollution sources used to develop this strategy show that the largest sources of pollution in the gorge are actually outside its scenic area boundaries, PGE’s Boardman coal plant and Portland’s traffic emissions.

Pollution doesn’t stop at bureaucratic boundaries, so it’s no real surprise that bad air from outside sources filters into our little wind tunnel.

The air strategy relies on controls in place in two adjacent Class 1 airsheds, the federal Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams wilderness areas. Pollution sources that contribute to haze around these scenic zones fall under the jurisdiction of the federally mandated Regional Haze Plan.

Though the measurements aren’t yet available, the gorge may already be benefitting from these controls.

PGE has already installed tighter pollution measures at the Boardman coal plant and is due to complete more measures mandated under an agreement with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality by 2014. The tighter measures will allow PGE to continue to operate the plant, but only until 2020, when it has promised to quit using coal there.

It makes good sense to give these measures time to work and be evaluated before implementing a potentially draconian new set of regulations specific to the gorge.

Do we want clean air? You bet. Do we want regulations that make it overly difficult to live and work in the place we call home? Not so fast.

The gorge is barely 50 miles away from two areas governed by the strictest air quality standards in the land.

And not only do haze laws require strong measures within those areas, they require them of any pollution source with the potential to contribute to the problem.

If the wilderness areas have a haze problem, then the gorge can expect to fall under measures to reduce it.

That said, Friends Conservation Director Michael Lang makes a good point (see story page A1) when he warns about more localized sources of pollution, like the diesel fumes from an added 35 to 40 trains that would be needed to transport coal to shipping terminals on the Pacific Northwest coast.

The gorge and the wilderness areas at higher elevations on the two mountains won’t experience the same air pollution effects.

Wind, topography and inversion zones are all examples of variables that can act differently on the gorge and the mountain areas.

The Friends may not think it’s enough, but the gorge commission’s air strategy does constitute a plan to monitor, review at five-year intervals and compare air quality improvements (or lack thereof) with those in the wilderness areas.

It only makes sense to give these measures time to work before implementing new ones. Testing, review and evaluation are valid scientific measures.

If those measures fail to provide a viable remedy, that’s the time to consider other options.

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