Appeals court backs Gorge Commission's air quality strategy

The Oregon Court of Appeals has rejected claims from the Friends of the Columbia Gorge that criticized the Columbia River Gorge Commission's plan to manage air quality in the region. The Friends argued the strategy does not include enough regional-specific regulation and fails to properly address many of the air-related problems directly around the Gorge, but the court disagreed with that assertion.

The civil appeals court agreed with the Commission's position that the strategy, developed from years of collaboration between the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, local community members and other bodies, should be carried out with a regional approach rather than one centered exclusively in the vicinity of the Gorge. It added that the Commission's current plan adequately describes an end goal and a "framework for achieving the goal" that includes stipulations for carefully assessing its impact on the region. The court cited a section of the plan that calls for state air agencies to evaluate changes in the level of haze surrounding the Columbia Gorge every five years and make changes if necessary.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge also claimed that the Commission's air quality plan did not meet stipulations laid out by the Scenic Area Act designed to improve the air near the Gorge, specifically in terms of visibility. However, the court again disagreed, finding the strategy clearly addressed ecological problems like particulate matter and "excess deposits of nitrogen and acid" that effectively contributes to poor visibility around the Gorge.

A spokesperson with the Columbia River Gorge Commission praised the ruling, again reinforcing the Commission's argument that a regional approach is the only effective way to combat haze. He cited a study showing that most of the air pollution plaguing the area comes from coal-plant and vehicle emissions from regions not included in the Commission's jurisdiction.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge say they are unsure whether they will continue challenging the strategy in court, but they hold by their assertion that the Commission is inadequately protecting and enhancing air quality in and around the Gorge.


Source: 
Hood River News, "Gorge Commission's Air Study Upheld In Oregon Court Ruling" Kathy Ursprung, Jul. 05, 2013

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