Friday, December 09, 2005

Tribune Coverage of City Sewer Deal Stinks

In a long article Nick Budnick of the Portland Tribune gives Portland a pass on its massive sewage spills into the Willamette and other local waterways and its poor track record on meeting EPA clean water requirements.

The thrust of Budnick's article "Stink still rises in city sewer deal" is that rural Oregon Republicans complained to the EPA because farmers were "getting fined for letting a relatively small amount of cow feces . . . reach rivers" and "Portland was getting fined less for doing a lot worse." According to City Commissioner Sam Adams, the EPA then supposedly started to clamp down on Portland in order to "'curry favor with rural Republicans.'"

First, even if this is true, why should small violators like farmers who do little damage be fined when large violators get off simply because they have political clout? Isn't the real story that the City of Portland has used its political power to wiggle out of fines and lengthen the process of cleaning up its polluting infrastructure when farmers and other smaller polluters were never given the same consideration?

Second, reporter Nick Budnick only mentions in passing that Oregon's DEQ (under a Democratic state administration) hit Portland with major fines because of it recent massive sewage spills. (Note to Nick: Better check to see how much clout rural Republicans have on Oregon's DEQ.)

For years, to build the Big Pipe mandated by DEQ, the city shifted money away from maintenance. Lack of maintenance caused many of the clean-water violations that led DEQ to propose fining the city almost $500,000 last month.

Okay, let's get this straight. Portland had a sewage leak problem. So, it spent its money on a future project (the Big Pipe) instead of maintaining its present system. City officials (and the Tribune) seem to think that as long as you are working on a future fix for the sewage spill problem you didn't have to take reasonable steps to make sure that the present system is working properly.

Nick at the Tribune fails to mention in his article that because of Portland's negligence among other recent spills, Portland dumped 660,000 gallons of sewage into the Willamette River just in September and 511,000 gallons of sewage into Fanno Creek in October. Oops! A few cow feces and even high level industrial pollution sound good in comparison to that.

Unfortunately mentioning the severity of the City's DEQ problems would run counter to Nick's and the City Commissioners' thesis that Portland is being picked on by the EPA for political reasons rather than because they are the major polluter of Oregon's waters and are way behind on federal clean water standards. So, no real account is given of the DEQ violations.

Apparently both the EPA and the DEQ should give Portland a pass on its polluting behavior because, as Sam Adams, Commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Environmental Services, puts it:

"We are on the verge of ratepayer revolt. We are not a cash cow for them. We are trying to maintain jobs and businesses in the city of Portland."

I wonder if this argument will work for automakers, paper mills, and chemical plants--not to mention farmers and their cows.


HizzleThizzle said...

Well it so happens that Bush is all about Big Business so when the president is on your side only the little guy suffers.

terrance said...

Well, when Commissioner Sam Adams and Portland's City Council are on your side a lot of little guys suffer--all the little guys who use the Willamette River, Fanno Creek, and the Columbia River.

I'm sure Wilsonville and other Willamette water users are about as thrilled with the 660,000 gallons of raw sewage Portland dumped into the Willamette recently as Portland would be in having the same amount dumped in the Bull Run Reservoirs.

If you don't fine these guys, they just do whatever is the easiest for them. Let's hope Bush's EPA cares more about clean water for all the little guy users than pleasing Oregon's 600 pound political gorilla.