Federal regulators have ruled Oregon's plan for reducing coastal pollution due to runoff from logging, agriculture, stormwater runoff and other sources insufficient.
The decision announced Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could include financial sanctions of $1.2 million for Oregon's failure to comply with the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program.
Federal law calls for noncompliant states to lose 30 percent of federal dollars they receive under section 306 of the Coastal Zone Management Act and section 319 of the Clean Water Act - money used to address coastal pollution.
Oregon receives about $4 million from those pots.
Federal officials hope Oregon can avoid the financial hit by working with them to improve its coastal pollution controls in the coming months. At earliest, the sanctions could begin in July.
"What the state and the agencies are really focused on right now is a path forward on progress to address the forestry gaps," said Joelle Gore, an acting division chief with NOAA. "Focusing on the penalties is not at our forefront right now."
Friday's decision makes Oregon the first state to be penalized for failing to meet federal standards for reducing so-called "non-point pollution," a term used to describe pollution from sources such as logging and agriculture, which are not restricted by the Clean Water Act.
Congress mandated in 1990 that the nation's 34 coastal states needed to address indirect causes of pollution, with a 1996 deadline for compliance.
Friday's decision comes after an Oregon environmental group sued NOAA and the EPA for failing to approve or reject Oregon's plan by the deadline.
Nina Bell, whose Northwest Environmental Advocates filed the lawsuit that led to Friday's decision, noted the counterintuitive nature of addressing inadequate pollution controls by withholding money to control pollution. However, she said, financial sanctions could induce action after years of delay.
"They have refused to play their role for this whole two decade period," she said. "We hope that now that they're been jolted to the reality of the situation, they will take it seriously and put in place the remedies."
To date - 19 years past the approval deadline - 22 states' plans have received final approval. Only Oregon's has been rejected.
NOAA and EPA first notified Oregon state leaders that their program was too weak back in 1998. Oregon spent years tweaking the program and the federal agencies held off on imposing sanctions. As part of the settlement in Northwest Environmental Advocates' lawsuit, the feds agreed to rule on Oregon's program.
Friday's ruling notes the program has improved, but measures to prevent pollution runoff from logging are still too weak.
Specifically, the agencies found Oregon too weak in four forest management areas:
• Riparian protection for medium and small fish-bearing streams and non fish-bearing streams
• Practices that reduce runoff from old, unused forest roads
• Practices to reduce runoff from landslide-prone areas
• Assurances that herbicides are properly applied to reduce impact on waterways.
Dennis McLerran, region 10 administrator for the EPA, said the agencies are working with Oregon to create a timeline for the state to address its shortcomings.
"They're all achievable," McLerran said. "What they will require is some commitment and work by the state."
The feds deemed that Oregon had fixed other shortcomings by improving its measures to reduce stormwater runoff and other urban sources of pollution and minimizing pollution from sewage disposal systems. The agencies have not yet decided whether Oregon's agricultural anti-pollution measures are sufficient, but officials said they will.
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