Friends of the Columbia Gorge is pleased to report on successes met and challenges faced at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013. With generous support from members, volunteers and others, Friends was able to oppose the threat of coal exports, fight damaging wind energy and natural gas developments, monitor radioactive waste transport proposals, deepen our membership connection through improved communication and analysis and continue outreach with our hiking and other events in the Gorge.
Objective: Ensure Energy Development and Transportation does not harm gorge resources
- Wind Energy: Ensure no new wind turbines near the Scenic Area boundary and no new adverse impacts to Gorge resources.
- Natural Gas Power Plants: Ensure development does not increase Gorge air pollution.
- Coal Export: Stop major coal transport proposals through the Gorge.
- Radioactive waste: Stop radioactive waste transport proposals through the Gorge.
Ensure no new wind turbines near the Scenic Area boundary and no new adverse impacts to Gorge residents.
Friends maintains a strong litigation position with the Washington Supreme Court on the Whistling Ridge wind energy project decision, filing objections, making oral arguments and submitting briefs. As part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (i.e., the deal reached on the fiscal cliff), Congress renewed the federal energy production tax credit for one year, thus keeping alive federal funding for approved but not yet built wind energy projects. This bolstered the potential viability of the Whistling Ridge Project. Friends will continue to stay engaged in this issue and litigation.
Ensure natural gas power plants development does not increase Gorge air pollution.
The initial application for the Troutdale 600-megawatt natural gas facility was not released by public comment, possibly due to conflicts with the proposal and the adjacent Troutdale airport. Friends learned that the proposal could result in the closure of the Troutdale airport due to exhaust from the twin natural gas turbines and steam emissions from its cooling facility. The natural gas facility has been strongly opposed by the Oregon Pilots Association. In December 2012 the application was amended to a 451-megawatt busload unit and two 101 MW peaking units, allowing expanded use of diesel fuel. The project could worsen air pollution in the Gorge, particularly with nitrogen oxides. Friends continues to monitor the application and is prepared to provide comments when the application is released for public comment.
Stop major coal transport proposals through the Gorge
As the main transportation link between the Intermountain West and the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia Gorge is the West’s default corridor for energy transportation. Plans for five, large-scale coal export proposals have been proposed in the Northwest. Coal would be transported by rail from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to the Pacific Northwest for export to Asia. The only feasible route for transport is through the Columbia River Gorge. Coal exports could exceed 150 million tons annually, resulting in 30 mile-long coal trains per day with uncovered coal cars. Increased coal transport would increase fugitive coal dust and diesel emissions, create the need to double track the rail lines of the gorge and disrupt local communities.
To meet this threat, Friends has joined with the Power Past Coal Coalition. The coalition of 90 groups, including Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, Earth Justice, Greenpeace, Washington Environmental Council and Columbia Riverkeeper, is working to stop coal export proposals from moving forward. Friends plays a crucial role within the coalition as the only organization with the sole mission of protecting the Columbia River Gorge, a federally protected area impacted by all five export proposals. Friends’ bi-state voice in the coalition enables us to effectively organize work with elected officials in both states. Friends’ long-standing relationships in many communities facing adverse rail traffic impacts resulted in numerous city and county resolutions and letters against increased coal transport. The broad community and coalition response to this threat inspires civic engagement and effective alliances with a diviersity of constituencies.
Friends and others have laid considerable ground work securing opposition letters from over 60 communities and elected officials. As the process moved into hearings and reviews of Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), Friends worked with the coalition to expand the scope of the review. Friends recently hired Senator Ron Wyden’s former chief of staff to encourage the Senator (now the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) to actively engage in the coal export issue and call for a broader environmental review.
The Port of Morrow proposal is the first to move forward in Oregon. Due to pressure from the Power Past Coal Coalition, Ambre Energy was forced to apply to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for air and water quality permits. In addition, the Ambre Energy project needs permits from Oregon DSL and the Corps of Engineers prior to construction. The DSL removal and fill permit, which could have been issued as early as April 1, 2013, has been delayed until September 2013. This is the first permit coal export permit decision, making it a major opposition focus.
Friends continues to apply pressure on the Governor and the DSL to deny the removal-fill construction permit. Friends organized elected leaders from The Dalles, Mosier, Hood River and Stevenson to send a letter to the Governor and DSL asking for denial of the removal and fill permit. They also met with the Governor’s natural resource policy director to advocate for denial. Friends is organizing Gorge farmers to oppose coal export proposals. Friends cross referenced large donors to Governor Kitzhaber’s last election who are Friends members and worked to request a meeting with the Governor with these donors.
On a broader scale potentially impacting all the coal export proposals, Friends has been collecting accounts of individuals who encounter coal dust coming off trains in the Gorge. These accounts are being video-recorded and collected in declarations as well as delivered to the press. Friends and its allies are analyzing coal in the Columbia River and its tributaries for potential violations of the Clean Water Act.
Stop radioactive waste transport proposals through the Gorge.
Friends has monitored this issue throughout this period. Recently, the Department of Energy announced plans to dispose significant amounts of the nation’s low-level radioactive waste at Hanford. Friends and Columbia Riverkeeper are co-hosing a community discussion in March about radioactive waste traveling through the Columbia Gorge. Recent revelations on radioactive leaks from Hanford storage containers are being monitored closely.
Objective: Build public support for long-term Gorge protection
- Conduct 80 hikes and outings to educate the public and recruit supporters; and
- Conduct at least 25 hikes to lesser known waterfalls; and
- Conduct at least 10 hikes, bike rides and tours to public properties in the Gorge Towns to Trails vision.
Friends continued its successful hiking and outings program. A new addition to the hiking program was launched in Spring 2013: Play and Stay. Part of the Gorge Towns to Trails concept encouraging recreation blended with economic development, the Play and Stay weekends provide guided outings starting from the same community. The intent is for hikers to play and stay overnight, enjoying what the commmunity has to offer.
Friends also launched Flower Frenzy, its 2013 hike challenge. As in previous years, the hike challenges help promote and deepen connections to the Gorge.
Friends thanks its members, volunteers, and others' efforts to protect the Columbia Gorge for future generations to enjoy.