The Dalles The Friends of the Columbia Gorge organization hasn’t determined whether it will pursue further legal remedies after its challenge to the gorge commission’s Regional Air Quality Strategy was shot down June 19 by the Oregon Court of Appeals, but its conservation director says the commission needs to do more to protect air quality.
“The disturbing thing is that the court opinion says the gorge commission doesn’t have to do anything — no action to protect air quality in the gorge,” Lang said.
The commission’s strategy relies on enforcement of the federally mandated Regional Haze Plans for the Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams wilderness areas just outside the scenic area boundaries. The haze plans for Class 1 airsheds — wilderness areas and state parks — contain some of the toughest air quality rules around and govern pollution sources outside those airsheds that contribute to air quality threats.
Oregon and Washington air quality agencies, working with tribes and gorge cities, wrote the gorge air plan with the idea that rules governing the wilderness areas will also benefit the adjacent scenic area. The plan provides for monitoring and reviews of air quality in the gorge every five years in conjunction with the haze plan reviews to determine whether air quality is improving or whether other remedies may be needed.
The Friends challenge objects that the plan goes no further and takes no measures specific to the scenic area. Lang says the gorge commission should be doing more.
“The court can’t make them do it,” Lang said, “but the gorge commission ought to be concerned about the air quality for the people in the gorge. They ought to be sure their scenic resources are protected. That’s what they’re there for and they’re not doing their job. What happens if all the coal-exporting proposals are approved?”
Lang worries about the pollution that may be caused by 35 to 40 additional diesel trains rolling through the gorge carrying coal in open cars and says the commission air quality strategy does nothing to prevent that. A power plant proposed at the edge of the scenic area in Troutdale could also affect gorge air quality, he said.
“We’re saying, gorge commission, you have the discretion to step forward to protect the gorge,” Lang said. “You need to exercise that discretion.”
The Friends challenge also contended that the Gorge Air Quality Strategy is not an actual strategy, has no measurable standards, regulation or timelines to assure air quality in the gorge. Lang said the haze plan emphasis on visibility was not adequate for general air quality.
The court disagreed with both counts in its decision, saying the air strategy has goals, a framework for achieving the goals, criteria to determine whether goals have been met and a contingency plan in the event the goals aren’t met. Further, the commission noted and the court agreed that, in addition to visibility, the haze plan explicitly addresses public health, including particulate matter, ozone standards and ecological effects.