More than 100 members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have signed a petition opposing expansion of the natural gas-fired Carty Generating Station on Tower Road near Boardman.
A volunteer group of local tribal members began circulating the petition Saturday, condemning “extreme fossil fuel infrastructures that undermine our clean air, sacred water and land, and public interest of health and safety.”
Portland General Electric finished construction of the 440-megawatt Carty gas plant last year, right next door to the Boardman Coal Plant which is slated to close or possibly convert to another source of fuel by 2020.
Now, PGE is applying to build two new gas units at Carty to potentially recoup power that will be lost after the coal plant is retired. That’s not sitting well with some tribal members who would rather see more investment in clean wind and solar energy.
“So here we are, trying to garner community support through these petitions,” said Cathy Sampson-Kruse, an enrolled CTUIR member.
Sampson-Kruse, along with her sisters Linda and Sandy Sampson, mother Arleta and father Carl Sampson — also known as Peo-Peo-Mox-Mox, head chief of the Walla Walla Tribe — are part of a core group of volunteers on the front lines of several fossil fuel developments across the Columbia Basin.
In 2013, Linda Sampson was involved in protests that delayed the first of three “megaloads” hauling oil refinery equipment through Eastern Oregon to Alberta, Canada. In 2014, Carl Sampson spoke out against the Morrow Pacific Project, which sought to ship 8 million tons of coal annually down the Columbia River from a terminal in Boardman.
On Wednesday, the Sampsons, joined by Willa Wallace of Pendleton, met in Mission to discuss their concerns about Carty — which is located on land ceded to the tribes’ under the Treaty of 1855. Expanding natural gas facilities would have severe consequences, Sampson-Kruse said, from contributing to climate change to using 8.8 million gallons of water daily from Carty Reservoir, which itself draws from the Columbia River.
“We’re speaking from a very strong tribal point of view,” Sampson-Kruse said. “But it’s not just our tribal community. It’s the entire community we live in. It’s not just our children. It’s everyone’s children. It’s everyone’s land, air and water.”
As of Wednesday, Sampson-Kruse said 104 tribal members have signed their petition, which is more than double their original goal. The deadline to comment on the Carty’s amended site certificate to the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council is 5 p.m. Friday.
Sampson-Kruse recalled visiting the Standing Rock Reservation in December, where she joined the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Leaders there urged members of all Indian tribes to be just as active fighting for their way of life back at their homelands, she said.
“We need to remain true to who we are as a people,” Sampson-Kruse said.
Environmental organizations are also pushing back against PGE, including the Sierra Club, which argues two new natural gas units would make Carty the largest climate polluter in Oregon with more than 4 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.
PGE officials, however, insist opponents are getting ahead of themselves.
Just because they are applying for permits does not mean expansion at Carty is a done deal, they say.
It all starts with the company’s 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which was filed with the Oregon Public Utility Commission last November. In that plan, PGE sketches what resources it will need to add by 2020 to make up for the loss of the Boardman Coal Plant from its energy fleet.
The plan does call for 175 average megawatts of additional renewable energy to meet state-mandated goals, but also stresses the need for so-called “dispatchable” resources that can be ramped up and down quickly to balance the grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. What the plan doesn’t mention is specific projects to reach those benchmarks.
Franco Albi, manager of integrated resource planning for PGE, said that once the 2016 plan is acknowledged by the PUC, the utility will go out for bids on a range of possible developments.
Their analysis, Albi said, is completely indifferent to any particular site or resource.
Brett Sims, PGE director of resource strategy, said the reason they are chasing permits for Carty now is that, come time for bids, contractors will have that option on the table.
“We think that’s just responsible planning,” Sims said.
There is no scenario where PGE could meet their needs with 100 percent reneawbles, Sims said. A flexible base resource must be part of the equation.
“A gas plant can clearly do that,” he said.
In comments to the PUC, the Sierra Club argues PGE is trying to stack the deck in favor of two new gas units at Carty. The organization also says that PGE must include stakeholders and the public in the evaluation of future bids, absent more information in the resource plan.
Linda Sampson said the tribes will continue to fight against fossil fuels in order to protect what is known as Tamanwit, the unwritten laws of nature that establish the relationship between humans and the Earth.
“It’s not going to stop,” she said. “Our blood is here. This is where our people are buried. We’re not going away.”
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.