State's Environmental Management System Needs Updating

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Byline: Ron Sadler

Forty years ago, Oregon was looked up to as the nation's leading state in terms of its recognition of the importance of incorporating environmental considerations into its management and development decisions. Gov. Tom McCall spoke of "...Oregon's status as the environmental model of this nation." The clean-up of the Willamette River, initial attempts to manage and control air and water pollution, the Forest Practices Act, and numerous other state mandates seemed to indicate Oregon was leading the charge toward a safe and sustainable future.

Something has happened along the way.

Here at the dawn of the year 2011, Oregon no longer leads the pack - indeed, Oregon is bringing up the rear.

Since 1970, a total of 27 states, including our neighbors Washington and California, have recognized the need to revamp their internal environmental management machinery and have reorganized their agencies and processes to meet modern needs. They have clearly identified decision-makers, structured lines of authority, defined interagency coordination processes, and standardized types of required analysis and information displays, thus providing their citizens with a rational and transparent decision-making process.

Oregon has done none of these things, even though the need to do so has been clearly identified and documented.

The Oregon Progress Board issued a report entitled "Oregon State of the Environment Report 2000" more than 10 years ago. It was produced by a blue-ribbon independent science panel.

The gist of this outstanding report is captured in three sentences in the executive summary: "The state's existing environmental data collection and management system must be improved to effectively measure ecological conditions, trends or risks. Measuring ecological conditions, trends and risks is fundamentally different from the problems Oregon's environmental programs were initially established to address. Resolving them will require new approaches described in this report aimed at sustaining the health of naturally functioning landscapes and the productive capacity of the environment."

To my knowledge, nothing has been done to begin to develop and implement "new approaches."

We continue to stumble and fumble along - that is, until something off the wall like the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas proposal comes along. Then, the state's existing processes are exposed for what they really are - namely, institutionalized chaos.

The Jordan Cove project in the Coos Bay area will not become a reality until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes a three-step process: 1) Prepares a viable environmental impact statement, 2) issues a record of decision based on the impact statement, and 3) issues a permit authorizing the Jordan Cove project. …