If there’s one thing more vital than commerce, more important than jobs, it’s air.
And in the Columbia Gorge, the air is so-so; it’s cleaner than downtown Vegas, say researchers, but haze from dust and pollutants cloud the Gorge in winter and summer. The result is what one researcher calls “medium” quality air, though another has said Gorge air is “a very polluted soup.”
Slowly, jumping hurdles like a lack of significant funding, state environmental officials are piecing together the causes — and, eventually, potential solutions — in a study calledÂ “Causes of Haze in the Gorge,” or “CaHaGo.” CaHaGo research in conducted jointly by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and Washington’s Southwest Clean Air Agency, plus private contractors. Together, they’ve compiled a draft CaHaGo report (available for download), which they presented to the Gorge Commission last week.
The draft report says that the Gorge has significant smog/haze thanks to the Portland/Vancouver Metro area to the west; a coal plant and massive dairy operation to the east near Boardman; and in the midst of the Gorge, diesel-burning trains, trucks, tugs, plus automobile traffic on the highways, agricultural burning and wood-burning residents of communities like The Dalles.
Whew! In other words, the sources are many, but the results are concentrated and obvious: Increasingly polluted, not to mention hazy, air in the Gorge.
Researchers analyzed some 600 days of air over two years from as far west as Washougal and as far east as Wishram. A final report is due in July, with resulting recommendations for what to do about the problem expected in a year and a half, by the end of summer 2007.
The bad news is that, besides the health effects, public officials have been slow to respond and given relatively scant resources to the issue. Also, the number of sources of pollutants means there are no quick fixes; indeed some sources, like car traffic, won’t ever be fixed, at least until peak oil production falls and starts squeezing us into newer, presumably cleaner, transportation technology.
There is some good news to the air quality issue. Three sources of Gorge pollution may be looking to, or forced to, clean up their act:
”¢ Shipping on the Columbia River was named in the draft report as a serious source of pollution; the Tidewater barge company says it’s actively considering replacing old, dirty-burning engines on one or more of its tugs with cleaner (85 percent cleaner!), fuel-efficient models.
”¢ Portland General Electric, which owns a coal-fired electricity plant in Boardman that contributes to Gorge air deterioration, says it will participate in a study of its contribution to hazy air. PGE may retrofit its plant with emissions-reducing apparatus following the study.
”¢ The 50,000-cow Threemile Canyon dairy has ammonia emissions that mix with the PGE coal-fired plant’s emissions to send acid rain into the Gorge, say federal researchers. But the dairy — along with all agricultural operations in Oregon — is exempt from state air quality regulations, thanks to thoughtless state law. Now, several Northwest environmental groups are asking the federal government to revoke that rule by taking away the state’s (unused) regulatory authority. Which means, corporate ag operations might have to start taking their neighbors into account. Watch for fierce resistance from the state’s enviro bureaucrats and corporate farmers on this front.