by Kelly House
published March 11, 2016
Oregon’s failure to confront coastal pollution from logging, agriculture and other sources has cost the state $1.2 million in federal grant money.
Federal regulators said Friday they will take the money from a roughly $4 million pot dedicated to addressing coastal pollution in Oregon because of what they consider an inadequate plan to control runoff that pollutes coastal waterways.
Instead, they’ll give the money to other states.
The decision makes Oregon the first state to face penalties for failing to meet federal standards set in 1990.
Coastal communities will feel the hit in the form of disappearing grant dollars and staff resources for dredging projects, wetland restoration, stormwater management and other efforts. The state Department of Environmental Quality will lose money for water quality improvement projects.
Regulators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for years have warned Oregon officials they were violating terms of the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program. Last year, they threatened sanctions if the state did not fix the problem.
All U.S. coastal states are subject to the 1990 law, which requires them to control water pollution from sources not covered in the Clean Water Act.
Federal regulators have said previously that Oregon needed to better protect streams from logging, control runoff from old forest roads and landslide-prone areas, and guard streams against aerial pesticide spraying.
In the year since, the Oregon Board of Forestry has begun crafting new rules to address logging runoff, but a 2015 bill to address aerial spraying never reached the Senate floor.
Richard Whitman, Gov. Kate Brown’s natural resources adviser, told federal regulators in a February letter that the state plans to address remaining concerns through voluntary measures.
On Wednesday, administrators from both federal agencies told Whitman those measures are “not sufficiently definite or advanced” to avoid sanctions.
“I don’t think anybody’s happy we got to this point,” said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The funding cuts will repeat yearly until Oregon submits a strong enough plan, an EPA official said.
When the coastal pollution program took effect, states had until 1996 to get in compliance. Oregon is one of 10 states whose plans have yet to gain final approval, but none of the others has been penalized.
Federal officials delayed final inspection of Oregon’s plan for nearly two decades before an environmental group sued to force them to either approve or reject the plan.
Nina Bell, whose Northwest Environmental Advocates filed the lawsuit, said Friday the sanctions send a long-overdue signal to Oregon legislators who have capitalized on the state’s green image while clinging to environmentally regressive policies.
“Oregon has a reputation for protecting the environment that was built on fiction,” Bell said. Now, “it comes down to this: Is the DEQ going to continue to send these letters saying everything we’re doing is good enough, or are they really going to dig in and do something?”
At publication time, representatives from Brown’s office had not returned calls for comment.
— Kelly House