Climate change | Transportation | Ecotrope

Portland Mayoral Candidates Debate Coal Exports

Ecotrope | April 19, 2012 2:29 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:32 p.m.

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The top three candidates for Portland mayor, Charlie Hales, left, Eileen Brady, and Jefferson Smith, right) debated environmental issues last night before an audience of about 500 people at Benson Polytechnic High School. One of the new issues they discussed was what the Portland mayor might do about coal trains passing through the city on their way to export terminals This photo came from their debate at OPB's studio April 5.

The top three candidates for Portland mayor, Charlie Hales, left, Eileen Brady, and Jefferson Smith, right) debated environmental issues last night before an audience of about 500 people at Benson Polytechnic High School. One of the new issues they discussed was what the Portland mayor might do about coal trains passing through the city on their way to export terminals This photo came from their debate at OPB’s studio April 5.

In the lightning round, for example, each candidate was asked to pick a side on Portland’s curbside composting program: Love it or hate it?

Hales said “love it” but wants it to be better explained and fine-tuned to better serve a variety of households. Smith said “love it” but the city should “show cost savings.” And Brady said “hate it” and that it should have been phased in instead of making it mandatory for everyone right away. Would the candidates support a carbon tax for the city of Portland? Brady: “Maybe yes.” Hales: “In Portland alone, yes. But I’d prefer the region.” Smith: “Probably yes.”

They confessed their eco-sins: using “non-organic stuff” in the garden (Hales), driving to work (Smith), and drinking bottled water (Brady). They bragged about their eco-accomplishments: keeping chickens in the backyard (Brady), biking more often (Hales), and composting (Smith).

And they also weighed in on coal export projects that would send coal trains through north and east Portland. There are proposals pending at the Port of St. Helens and the International Port of Coos Bay that could send trains through the city of Portland. What would the candidates do about them?

None of the candidates supported the coal export projects, but they didn’t express a lot of confidence in the city’s ability to stop the trains either.

Brady said a lot of the decision-making on the projects will be the state’s responsibility, but that there are “some things we can insist on.”

“If we’re going to allow it, it should be barged as opposed to shipped by rail in open-top containers,” she said.

Hales said the city should “demand a complete and thorough environmental impact statement” and “should get involved in the process aggressively.” He even advocated “using the city’s leverage with the railroads” because “they need things from the city.”

“We should use all the influence we have, including with the Congressional delegation,” he said. “But we are not … the decider.”

Smith, who had actually brought up coal exports earlier in reference to the future of the Boardman coal-fired power plant, said the city has two choices: “We can stop it or mitigate it.” Earlier he suggested reclassifying coal as a “hazardous pollutant” to make it harder to ship in open rail cars or “if it does happen, charging a fee for mitigation or clean-up.”

Later, he suggested the city “robustly engage the Legislature” – possibly putting conditions or restrictions on state grant funding for railroad improvements through Connect Oregon.

“Having a mayor who has been in the Legislature might be helpful,” he said.

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