I’ve been trying to explain why I’m ready to quit calling myself an "environmentalist," and this latest missive from the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, calling not for the shutdown of the coal-fired power plant that is ruining this national treasure, but for hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on it, has just about put me over the edge.
So I wrote my own version of the Friends’ canned letter to reflect what should really change.
Stop Coaling Oregon by 2012
I am writing to comment on the proposed rulemaking for the 2008 Oregon Regional Haze Plan and proposed regulation of the PGE Boardman coal-fired power plant. The power plant is the largest single source of haze-causing pollution in Oregon, resulting in haze and acid rain in the Columbia River Gorge and in wilderness areas throughout the region. The current proposal fails to adequately control air pollution from the power plant.
The proposed hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit Boardman are the policy equivalent of lipstick on a pig and would go a long way to paying for a pair of combined cycle natural gas turbines or, even better, one gas-fired turbine and one concentrated solar power Sterling-cycle turbine that takes advantage of the abundant solar resource in Boardman.
To better protect public health and the health of the Columbia River Gorge, the DEQ should require industry-standard controls at Boardman to reduce harmful coal emissions by 100%.
Stop Coaling Oregon by 2012
The best science indicates that we have very little time to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Boardman, like all coal plants, is massively inefficient and massively polluting, and the proposed haze reduction scrubbers will only make the plant even less efficient, causing it produce even more greenhouse emissions per kWh produced.
DEQ should give PGE until 2012 to shut down Boardman as a coal plant.
By 2011, PGE will have all the information necessary to make a decision about the future of Boardman. PGE has no excuse for further delays.
DEQ should waive the already-planned and required mercury pollution reductions in return for the shutdown commitment by 2012.
Allowing PGE an extra two years to continue uncontrolled emissions of mercury, in addition to the many years the utility has already delayed installation of these controls, poses a significant threat to Oregonians’ health and environment.
Please consider these suggestions as critical to improving the natural and scenic values of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and other important natural areas throughout the region. Oregonians deserve a plan that will aggressively protect these breathtaking places.
I also dusted off an essay I’ve been working on:
Imagine being arrested for following your faith, despite the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Now imagine that, at the same time, governments at every level are doing exactly what you’re being tried for.
That’s occurring in Oregon, where we the people, through our district attorneys, are charging faith-healing parents with manslaughter. Meanwhile, we blithely practice an unspoken faith healing rather than respond to the climate crisis. For, despite all the press and the high-fives that the Oregon Legislature gives itself for its good intentions, the plain fact is we are endangering all Oregon’s children with our climate policies, which amount to little more than hopeful faith healing.
If Oregon were tried for this abuse, for using the policy equivalents of poultices, laying on of hands, and prayer, we would see that our failure to look after the well-being of younger Oregonians is much graver and less justified than even the actions of the parents now on trial.
Exhibit 1 in the abuse trial for Oregon is the Boardman power plant, an antiquated coal-burning monstrosity that spews millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, along with asthma-and heart disease-inducing particulates, mercury, radioactive materials, and haze-forming chemicals. Instead of following the science and shutting down the plant promptly, our faith tells us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to “upgrade” Boardman, adding scrubbers and other emissions treatments, which will raise both rates and greenhouse emissions as the devices reduce plant efficiency and require more coal for the same power output.
Worse, "environmentalists" have become the lead enablers for Boardman, hoping that dancing the "be reasonable" dance deftly enough will persuade the plant’s owner to make a few healing chants over the plant, even as it gets ready for another fifty years of destroying the earth.
There are many more exhibits that could be introduced, each one showing our deep faith that “they’ll think of something,” that something being anything that will let us continue business as usual and without interfering with church services at the altar of Economic Growth, the central deity of our society and of our public lives. Our faith in Economic Growth is complete, and it is reflected in our every law, from the tax code on down. We reject all heresies, such as emission reduction mandates.
Instead, we keep bowing towards Economic Growth and seek to turn our carbon emissions sins into salvation with a new species of financial instruments, tradable carbon allowances. Just as the faithful seize on cancer remissions to argue that prayer is medicine, we seize the example of sulfur emissions trading to bolster our faith in carbon trading as a new divine indulgence. Sadly, short-lived sulfur emissions and long-lived carbon emissions mean that carbon trading is to climate response what the withdrawal method is to birth control: the folly comes first and the consequences come later.
I don’t have an easy solution. But when I see us prosecuting parents who sacrifice children by putting faith before science, and then look at us — how our homes and businesses gorge on power, at our plans for Boardman, coal-fired ethanol plants, massive new automobile bridges, and ever-expanding cities — I am shocked that we have the nerve.