DEQ Follies

Anti-coal demonstrators on MLK, 6 December 2012

I bicycled over (in the rain, of course: but it was a little scarier than usual, because, in December, it was so dark) to the State Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ henceforth] hearing on the application for a permit to build a coal export terminal on the lower Columbia, next to Portland.

It was an object lesson in the present dysfunctionality of government.

The hearing took place at the “Ambridge Center” (of which I had never previously heard) at the corner of Northeast Clackamas and Martin Luther King Boulevard. There was an elaborate demonstration in progress when I got there (late: my son helped to clean up the dressing room at the Northwest Children’s Theater after his “preview performance” ended, and so my schedule was set back): at least 100 people were holding signs on both sides of MLK, a whole block-long flashing neon sign spelled out “Say No to Coal”, and the beeping of passing cars set up repeated cheers.

Chris Henry, a former Green Party member and candidate, wandered over to where I held a Party banner and extended good-natured greetings.

At six, the crowd and I went inside.

Almost 1000 people attended this meeting: the DEQ had changed the venue to accommodate them all (from a University of Portland hall that held “only 400”), but people still lined the walls all around, and the seats were pretty much all taken in a hall of 850 total capacity. Of these many people, perhaps 50 supported the proposal: they all sat together, were employees of the companies which were to be employed as a result, and raised their hands in response to the corporate spokesmen who hailed their presence.

That didn’t stop the Oregonian this morning from devoting 6 paragraphs to the views of the proponents, and 2 to those of the opponents, of the proposal.

Questions were to be addressed to the three DEQ experts involved in evaluating whether permits were to be issued for the construction of a terminal — you had to state the question in 30 seconds — and after the questions, two hours were reserved to 90-second-each “comments”.

The questions immediately revealed the mismatch between the expectations of the opponents, concerned about environmental effects of exporting massive amounts of coal, and the actual intentions of the DEQ consultants. Will you consider the results of the greenhouse gas emissions of burning this amount of coal? The application is for a transfer terminal, and the “fugitive emissions” (the DEQ’s term for the gas released by the coal in transit) do not rise to levels prohibited by state and federal law. What happens to “the product” after it is shipped is “not our responsibility.”

The buzzword of the evening was repeated so much that one of the DEQ chaps admitted that he sounded “like a broken record”: if the level of fugitive emissions is below that prohibited by law, then the DEQ is obliged to issue the permits.

To increasingly frustrated questioners the answer stayed the same, time after time. Mercury pollution? Spontaneous combustion on the barges? The call, by 15 elected local government bodies, for a comprehensive environmental review? Previously documented lies by the corporate applicant? If the level of fugitive emissions is below that prohibited by law. . .

DEQ will even rely on the coal company’s measurements to see whether they are in compliance with the projected level of them there fugitive emissions.

The low point in level of integrity by the DEQ consultants so placed on the spot by questions regarding their intentions came when they — more than once — suggested that they could not do a comprehensive Environmental Impact investigation: they suggested that it was up to the US Army Corps of Engineers — this despite the middle name of their own agency.

When Pacific Green Party member and former candidate Lloyd Marbet put into words the exasperation in the room, and framed his question, “Will you call the Governor tomorrow morning and tell him he’s got a revolt on his hands?” — to general, prohibited applause — Ms. DiConcini, the DEQ facilitator for the forum, threatened to shut down the meeting. She called forward one of the previous Sierra Club spokespeople, who told the audience how bad it would look if the headlines in the newspaper read “Hearing Shut Down Due to Disruption.”

But Mr Marbet had more ammunition to fire. During the “comments” period he eloquently denounced the farce that was the hearing, simply by quoting the DEQ’s own words, on its oh-so-politically-correct website, back. There, the DEQ states, Marbet quoted:

The effects of climate change have serious implications for Oregon’s economy and environment. Our winters are becoming milder, our summers hotter. Snow packs are shrinking and unseasonably warm temperatures are leading to rapid snow melts depleting Oregon’s supply of summer water for agriculture. . . Storms and forest fires are becoming more severe. . .

The DEQ has the solution:

Oregon doesn’t have to keep doing business as usual. Together, we can lead the way along with other states to be a poart of the solution. Oregon DEQ is meeting the challenge of climate change head-on and participating in statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare for impacts and help nurture a cleaner, more sustainable Oregon

All Marbet had to do, to show the utter falsity of the DEQ’s statements, is to quote the actual, immediate, emphatic response to the continual pleadings, all evening long, to the DEQ even briefly to consider climate change as part of the process of issuing a permit to a company asking to export coal through Columbia River port facilities.

Namely, No. Hell, NO.

Lloyd Marbet will be addressing the Eastside Democratic Club, meeting noon to two pm on 9 January 2013, at the Grace Presbyterian Church, 6125 N.E. Prescott Street. He reiterated that commitment last night when I congratulated him on his powerful presentation.

I wish I could say I had anything to do with contacting him and organizing his appearance. It wasn’t me, however, but it was the President of the Eastside Democratic Club, Maxine Wilkins, who did it.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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