SALEM Umatilla and Morrow county leaders presented their concerns about the early closure of Portland General Electrics coal-fired power plant to the House Committee on Business and Labor Wednesday morning.
The hearing was scheduled to discuss the economic impacts of that closure.
State Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, called himself a big fan of coal plants and said he didnt understand the desire to close the states only coal plant near Boardman.
It seems a bit odd to me that with the little that we use of this particular resource, coal, for energy, that we would be the one closing down a plant, when the eastern part of the country is just saturated with coal-fired plants, he said.
Jenson expressed his desire to put resources into research and development for cleaner coal production so the source can be viable for the future.
Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, said he never has had a complaint about the coal plant from his constituents, saying that they, in fact, love having the coal plant there.
Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, also testified.
The closing of this facility will have an economic hit on Morrow County that we cant comprehend, he said. Its the equivalent of closing Nike. Its the equivalent of closing OHSU. Its the equivalent of closing Columbia Sportswear.
Smith said the Boardman facility represents 20 percent of Morrow Countys economic tax base, which is used to fund roads, schools, libraries, and county employees.
A number of committee members stated their support for the leaders and for keeping the plant open.
Its a vocal minority of elitists that want us to jump off this cliff, who are not thinking long-term because their bellies are full, said Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, chair of the committee. They dont understand how to use a shovel. Theyve never built anything in their life. Theyve never ran a business, and they dont care about the people that live out in that part of the state and quite frankly, in this part of the state.
Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem, told those who testified, I know about your community and those people that are going to lose their jobs, but this is about the whole state and the long-term growth and health of this state and our kids and our future.
Cameron also expressed his concerns about the increase in energy rates after the closure of the Boardman plant.
In her testimony to the Committee, Marcy Putman, political affairs director for Oregons Chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, emphasized the need to keep the plant open.
Lets not gamble on Oregons future, said Putman. Closure of Boardman will increase energy costs and make economic recovery increasingly difficult, especially for those in rural Oregon.
Gene Crowell, a plant employee, said that a loss of employment from the facility would result in a 30- percent reduction in pay if the employees, about half of whom are over age 50, were to stay in the area.
Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens said, We can barely afford to fund our social service departments and our law enforcement departments. These will all have domino effects if we start cutting jobs.
Givens noted that about 60 percent of those employed at the Boardman facility live in Umatilla County.
No advocates favoring the closure of the Boardman plant testified during the committee meeting, but Schaufler said he would like to give those people a chance to testify next year if a bill is brought through his committee.
Sarah Ross is a political reporter for The Oregon Politico, http://theoregonpolitico.com. Used with permission.