Tribal Government & News

Tribe concerned about Trump administration changes to Portland Harbor cleanup

An apparent change of course by the Trump administration regarding cleaning up toxic pollution along the Willamette River in Portland is of concern to the Grand Ronde Tribe as well.

Tribal Council member Kathleen George, who has a history of working on environmental conservation issues and sits on the state Department of Environmental Quality Commission, raised the issue at the Tuesday, Oct. 10, Legislative Action Committee meeting.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has been negotiating part of the plan with some of the companies responsible for cleanup, according to Richard Whitman, director of Oregon DEQ.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made Whitman’s letter public on Monday, Oct. 9, and urged the EPA “to honor its commitment to work collaboratively and transparently with the state, city and all responsible parties.”

“Apparently, the state Department of Environmental Quality was not included and certainly the Tribes who have been working on this site for 20 years, years before the listing, were not included at all,” George said. “While all the details appear not clear yet, it certainly seems to undercut the work that’s been done and the agreements that have been made, and, in many cases, seems to take the work of cleaning up Portland Harbor … seems to want to set that back.”

On Jan. 6, two weeks before President Barack Obama left the White House, the EPA announced a final $1.05 billion cleanup plan for a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette that became polluted from a century of industrial use.

Whitman said a draft agreement between the EPA and some companies responsible for the cleanup calls for more sediment samples to be taken and for fish consumption rates to be updated. He said such tactics appear intended to call into question the underpinnings of the cleanup plan announced in January.

Furthermore, Whitman wrote that the EPA’s failure to coordinate and consult violates a memorandum of understanding between federal, state and Tribal entities.

In an e-mail to Michelle Pirzadeh, acting regional EPA administrator in Seattle, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish said they are deeply troubled that state, Tribal and local stakeholders have been excluded from an opportunity to review changes.

If true, it would not be the first time the Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era environmental policy, having already pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and starting to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to curb U.S. output of carbon pollution.

George said she is worried that decades of work by Tribal employees on helping to clean up the Portland Harbor superfund site will go for naught and asked that Tribal Council hold a work session on the issue.

“This was a very disappointing piece of news,” she said.


Includes information from The Associated Press.