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Enviros Want PGE To Clean Up Boardman Plant

Environmentalists drew a bead on Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant Tuesday.

The groups told Portland General Electric that they’ll file suit in 60 days — unless the utility agrees to put better pollution controls on its Boardman plant.  PGE says it’s ready to install $350 million worth of scrubbers to reduce mercury and other pollutants.

But as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the environmentalists point out that those scrubbers won’t do a thing to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide.

On the banks of the Willamette River in downtown Portland, several dozen people gathered Tuesday with groups like The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and the Hell’s Canyon Preservation Council.

PGE ProtestThey carried placards and stood next to a massive black blow-up model of a power station.

Nat Parker, with the Sierra Club, says after months of trying to convince PGE to do the right thing at the Boardman plant, the only option they have left is to go to court.

Nat Parker: "The Boardman coal-fired power plant is what we consider one of the nation’s dirty dinosaurs. It’s a significant amount of energy that it produces, but it is in fact the dirtiest form of energy that we have. Coal is a 19th century form of energy powering the 21st century energy needs."

The Boardman Plant opened in 1980 and generates enough power to serve about a quarter of a million people. It’s responsible for about 20 percent of PGE’s capacity and its power is much cheaper than other sources.

Across the street from the protest stands the Portland headquarters of PGE. Inside spokesman Steve Corson can see the demonstration.

Steven Corson: “It’s a little bit perplexing because we did announce, two months ago to an aggressive strategy to add additional controls to the Boardman Plant.”

He’s right. Under a state mandated clean up plan, PGE is looking into spending $350 million to cut haze-causing emissions, airborne mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. But the Sierra Club and others point out that carbon dioxide, the gas that many scientists say is largely responsible for the changing climate, will continue to belch out.

Michael Lang is with the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge.

Michael Lang: “We’re here today, after years of foot dragging by agencies and the industry, to demand that Boardman is cleaned up, so places like the gorge and other important natural areas are protected.”

Several new coal-fired plants on the drawing board in other states plan to combat climate change by capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing the gas underground.

But back inside PGE, Steven Corson, concedes that the planned new controls won’t affect CO2 emissions.

Steve Corson: “It doesn’t affect carbon dioxide and that’s because at this point, we don’t have any options available to us that would affect carbon dioxide. There are a couple of different demonstration projects that are planned around the country to experiment with different carbon control technologies. But none of those exist right now and are available to us to put in place.”

The stand-off is just one battle in a war that’s raging across the country around coal-fired power plants.

On one side, environmentalists say drastic steps need to be taken to cut greenhouse gasses.

On the other side, the industry says it is changing, but in order to continue providing cheap, reliable power, it needs to keep older coal-powered stations on line, while new cleaner sources are built.