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Feds Cut Oregon Funds Over Failure To Protect Coastal Waters From Logging

March 11, 2016

After warning Oregon that its rules don’t adequately protect water in coastal streams from logging, two federal agencies are denying the state $1.2 million in grant funds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent a letter this week notifying the state’s natural resources director that Oregon hasn’t done enough to prevent pollution from forestry practices like logging and road building.

The agencies first notified Oregon officials that they needed to tighten "non-point source" pollution regulations more than 15 years ago. The group Northwest Environmental Advocates sued the agencies in 2009 over their failure to enforce the Coastal Zone Management Act rules.

In January of 2015, the federal agencies disapproved Oregon’s pollution control plan, a move that allows them to punish the state by cutting federal grant funding for programs within the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

But according to Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, the agencies didn’t actually withdraw the funds last year.

“We were perplexed by that and frankly infuriated,” she said. “We had a series of meetings with the judge. The federal agencies behave like bad parents who have simply never established what the consequence of bad behavior is going to be.”

Now that the agencies have decided to withdraw the funds, she said, the cuts could get deeper over time.

The Oregon Board of Forestry voted in November to add restrictions on logging along streams in western Oregon. In their letter, NOAA and EPA officials noted the state had made progress on its forestry practices, but had yet to address “the remaining management gaps in the forestry sector.”

“NOAA and EPA have determined that this progress is not sufficiently definite or advanced,” agency officials wrote, adding they were redistributing grant funds to other states as a result.

Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Nick Hennemann said the state recognizes room for improvement in its pollution controls in forests, and his agency is developing new rules for logging along streams that should be ready by the end of the year.

"The department is analyzing what improvements can be made for solid outcomes on stream-side protection," he said.

Streams in forests, like those near Portland, change faster than streams running through farmlands. Those agricultural waters are already compromised by pollution. Flickr Creative Commons: mpeacey

Streams in forests, like those near Portland, change faster than streams running through farmlands. Those agricultural waters are already compromised by pollution.

Flickr Creative Commons: mpeacey

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