Oregon Court backs Gorge Commission's commitment to protect Gorge Air Quality SWCAA News

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - On June 19, 2013, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the Gorge Commission's Regional Air Quality Strategy for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Following the Gorge Commission's direction and leadership, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency (SWCAA) undertook a decade-long collaborative effort to develop the strategy, which will produce noticeably clearer views and cleaner air in the Gorge.

In 1991, the U.S. Forest Service wrote a provision into the National Scenic Area management plan calling for a study of the Gorge for designation as a Class I airshed, a federal designation reserved for national parks and some wilderness areas. "In 2000, Gorge communities asked the Commission to rewrite the policy because the Gorge did not qualify as a Class I airshed, and the Commission requested that the states study and write a regional air quality strategy for the Gorge," said Carl McNew, Gorge Commission Chair.

"The states worked closely with one another and with the Commission, tribes, the Forest Service, and Gorge communities to develop the science, analyze the results, and design specific steps to improve air quality," explained Darren Nichols, the Commission's Executive Director. "The Commission learned from this collaborative effort. We're undertaking more collaborative work now, including looking at urban area issues, recreation needs, and monitoring the health of the Gorge."

In his brief, the Commission's counsel Jeff Litwak noted that the states' innovative, collaborative work was recognized in several peer-reviewed scientific journals. "This is another step in the right direction - the Gorge Air Quality Strategy gives us a solid base for measuring air quality over time. The Commission is also working with other agencies to improve scientific analysis and modeling for other Gorge resources," stated Nichols.

Appellants Friends of the Columbia Gorge argued the strategy should include more Gorge-specific regulations. Oregon and Washington air quality scientists, however, emphasized the importance of a regional approach focused on cleaning the air within the Gorge in conjunction with the air surrounding the Gorge. Now that the Court has agreed with the states' regional approach, the Commission, the states and other regional partners can begin work to improve the Gorge's nationally celebrated scenic resources.

To view the Oregon Court of Appeals' Decision, click here

For more information on the Columbia River Gorge Commission, click here