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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The terribly rude thing to bring up

M. Lee PeltonImage via WikipediaThe NYTimes ran a big story about the University of Oregon's sustainable city project that has picked Salem as its project for the year. In the story, they lavish the kind of love on Willamette University that gets PR folks promotions:

Karen Arabas, a professor of environmental science at Willamette University in downtown Salem, said private schools such as hers share that mission. She points to the 168-year-old institution's motto: "Not unto ourselves alone are we born."

"We have a strong sense of service on campus, and sustainability transcends every field," Arabas added. "When students graduate, these are some of the skills and knowledge they'll need in the world, whether they go into law, business or medicine."

Willamette -- which topped a 2008 National Wildlife Federation ranking of U.S. schools that engage in sustainability activities -- uses its Center for Sustainable Communities to foster campus-community collaboration. The 2,600-student university began hosting regular sustainability retreats for students, faculty and administrators in 2005 and is now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore habitat in a 300-acre research forest west of Salem.

The school looks at everything from how much locally harvested, organic food it serves to how many tons of greenhouse gases it emits.

Having a small environmental footprint is a big bragging right in these parts.

The Princeton Review and U.S. Green Building Council ranked Willamette, the University of Oregon and four other Oregon universities among the top 286 "green" colleges for 2011, based on the schools' practices, policies and curricula. The mere existence of such a list is evidence that universities, students and prospective employers are paying increasing attention to sustainability issues, said David Soto, the Princeton Review's director of college ratings.

The publisher surveyed 12,000 college applicants and parents earlier this year, and 64 percent of respondents said they would value having information about a school's environmental commitment. Almost a fifth of those respondents said such information would "very much" influence which school they choose.

"A lot of schools are starting to give guidance on green jobs -- what a green job is and how to secure one," Soto added.

Of course what they didn't mention is the never-mentioned-secret at Willamette: its President, M. Lee Pelton, sits on the board and collects handsome checks from Portland General Electric, owners of the single biggest polluter in Oregon, the Boardman coal plant, the single largest source of CO2 and (now that the Durkee cement plant is down) toxic mercury emissions.

In other words, everything that Willamette students do right for the environment in their entire careers is wiped out in an hour or two of operations at President Pelton's power plant at Boardman:
As Oregon works to brand the state as a clean-energy trailblazer, an inescapable irony hangs over the Gorge: PGE’s coal-fired power plant in Boardman, the state’s largest source of air pollution, is emitting carbon dioxide, mercury, soot, smog and haze-causing pollutants into a National Scenic Area.

PGE’s Boardman plant pollutes more than 10 protected National Parks, Scenic Areas and Wilderness Areas, including the Columbia River Gorge. Pollution from the plant causes acid rain and fog in the Gorge and is a major source of haze. A study released last year by the Yakama Nation revealed that PGE Boardman is responsible for up to 50% of the air pollution in the Columbia Gorge during times when air quality in the Gorge is at its worst.
Here's what is still the best short video treatment -- made several years ago -- of why this oh-so-impolite point needs to be raised. Every single point about positive feedback loops is coming true with a vengeance -- we've recently seen that phytoplankton is collapsing worldwide, massive, continent scale fires in Asia, drought and flooding in mid-continental regions, intense heat waves, and disappearing sea-ice in the Arctic.

All because utilities -- utilities like PGE, led by President Pelton and his fellow directors -- choose to continue burning coal, and even fighting for the "right" to continue burning coal for decades longer than is sane.

Jus' saying.

What we need to do.
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