Oregon students take a stand against coal

After seeing unfettered speculation on Wall Street lead to financial meltdown and the oil industry's lackadaisical attitude toward safety producing the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, you'd be right to question the wisdom of letting corporations regulate themselves. Yet most Oregonians would be surprised to realize this is just the approach that's been taken for too long when it comes to the biggest pollution source in this state: Oregon's Boardman Coal Plant.

The Boardman Coal Plant, operated by Portland General Electric, is the largest stationary source of greenhouse gases in Oregon. It's by far the state's largest emitter of mercury pollution, and the biggest contributor to haze, smog, and acid rain in the Columbia Gorge. This year PGE is asking the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (OPUC) to approve a plan to keep Boardman Coal running until 2020 or much longer.

But relying on PGE to tell us when is the best time to close Boardman would be like counting on Wall Street to regulate itself, or looking to BP and ExxonMobil to prevent oil spills. Indeed the analysis PGE uses contains flawed assumptions. The OPUC should protect ratepayers from being saddled with the cost of prolonging Boardman's life, and reject PGE's plan.

Third-party analyses show the best date to transition off Boardman is 2014. That's because it would allow PGE to avoid costly pollution controls required in 2015. If Boardman stays open later, PGE will pass the costs of pollution controls on to ratepayers. Meanwhile state and federal carbon regulations are likely to kick in, making coal-generated electricity an even worse investment.

Ten student governments from public and private educational institutions across Oregon are calling on decision makers to take action. Student governments at Southern Oregon University, Portland State University, Oregon State University, Lane Community College, Mount Hood Community College, Pacific University, Reed College, Willamette University, Linfield College, and McMinnville High School have passed resolutions urging the timeliest possible transition away from Boardman. Almost all single out 2014 as the date which makes most sense.

The student government at SOU unanimously passed such a resolution, adding provisions in support of investing in renewable energy production and efficiency efforts. Hundreds of SOU students also signed petitions in support of closing the plant by 2014 with the hope that this transition will open the door for the creation of a clean energy economy and future for Oregon.

Together, these resolutions represent the elected voices of more than 108,600 Oregon students. It's in the interest of future voters, ratepayers, and homeowners to transition to cleaner fuels, and that's why student voices have spoken loud and clear. We're asking the Oregon Public Utilities Commission to reject PGE's bid to keep Boardman open for another 10 years.

A large energy company shouldn't dictate what's best for Oregonians. Students understand this, as demonstrated by the actions of ten student governments. When the OPUC decides whether to approve PGE's plan for Boardman, we'll be urging them to reject a future that ties ratepayers to the cost of dirty coal. We hope the OPUC will join us, and tell PGE 10 more years of coal at Boardman is too long.

Sarah Westover is a recent graduate of Southern Oregon University with a degree in political science and criminal justice.

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