The science is clear and unmistakable: it is no longer reasonable or prudent for PGE or any other utility to burn coal.
We need a change in law so that the Oregon Public Utility Commission is required, as a matter of law, to make that finding -- that coal burning is not reasonable or prudent -- and, therefore, to deny any recovery of costs from ratepayers for any spending on or capital connected with coal use. We need to force the Oregon PUC to refuse any cost recovery for any coal-burning power plants after 2014 and to prohibit Oregon utilities from making any profit on coal-derived power imported from anywhere else.
We also need to increase the rate of return on low-carbon investments so that private utilities have the greatest possible incentives to invest in development and use of these vital energy sources. In addition to requiring the Oregon PUC to refuse any recovery for money spent on anything having to do with the use of coal, the PUC should be mandated to create a bonus rate structure that rewards utilities for conservation investments and for low and carbon-free power that they deliver by giving them a higher rate of return on these sources.
Responding to the climate threat is not just an environmental issue -- future generations can't speak for themselves yet, but they will have to live with the consequences of our actions now, making climate stability the ultimate global human rights issue. Oregon is well-positioned to establish the principles and legal mechanisms for an effective response to this grave danger.
In response, Sen. Peter Courtney forwarded the following from State Treasurer Ted Wheeler:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: James Sinks
Sept. 20, 2010 503-508-0737 (cell)
Treasurer Wheeler urges better regulation of coal ash to reduce health risks and lessen need for costly cleanups
As a major investor, Oregon supports responsible corporate practices and sensible regulations
SALEM - Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better regulate the disposal of toxic coal ash in order to reduce the likelihood of costly environmental and public health impacts.
The State Treasurer, representing the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, is part of a coalition of institutional investors that collectively manage more than $240 billion in assets and jointly submitted testimony asking the environmental agency to enact stronger rules regarding disposal of coal ash, and better reporting about those methods.
Oregon has one coal-fired power plant and coal ash landfill site, at Boardman in Morrow County. The facility is operated by Portland General Electric, which has announced plans to stop burning coal at the plant by 2020, which would be 20 years ahead of schedule.
"Every corporation and utility should act in a responsible way, especially when they are dealing with toxic wastes," Treasurer Wheeler said. "PGE is taking the right steps for their company, for their shareholders and for Oregon. Wherever coal is burned, investors and the public will be better protected by stronger rules, because doing too little can lead to major costs later."
Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal and contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxins, and is left in landfills or ponds. However, those ponds and landfills are subject to less consistent regulation than landfills accepting household trash.
National attention to coal ash disposal was raised after a pond breach in Tennessee in 2008. That disaster sent millions of gallons of contaminated sludge and water into the Emory River and destroyed three houses.
In its testimony, the investors' coalition highlights the financial assurance requirement in the proposed regulations, saying that provision will help shareholders to understand financial risks associated with coal ash and to evaluate which companies are financially prepared to manage the costs of decommissioning coal ash sludge ponds or dealing with other coal ash-related impacts.
The Oregon State Treasury, which manages the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, directly interacts with companies in an attempt to improve corporate responsibility and to enhance shareholder say in issues such as CEO salaries and reporting of environmental safeguards and risks.
In addition to internal communications and proxy vote actions, Oregon also seeks more accountability from Wall Street and corporations through lawsuits, when companies have failed to act in shareholders' best financial interests.
Good corporate governance is a system of checks and balances that fosters transparency, responsibility, accountability and market integrity - and as a result, adds value to public investments.
Other signatories to the letter to the EPA include the Connecticut State Treasurer's Office and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The Oregon State Treasury protects public assets and saves Oregonians money through its investment, banking, and debt management functions. The office also promotes public outreach and education to help Oregonians learn strategies to save money, invest for college and make smart financial choices.