Tribal Government & News

EPA administrator visits Oregon, announces support for toxic reductions in Columbia

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley speaks during a press event at Broughton Beach off Marine Drive in Portland about the EPA Columbia River Basin Restoration Program on Wednesday, Aug. 10. The recently approved infrastructure law will fund $79 million to reduce toxins in the Columbia River Basin. (Photo by Timothy J Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

PORTLAND – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan visited Oregon on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the invitation of Sen. Jeff Merkley to, among other things, announce new investments from the recently passed infrastructure law that will support reducing toxins in the Columbia River Basin.

“EPA is taking decisive action to protect public health and the environment for Oregonians and people across the nation,” Regan said. “Thanks to Senator Merkley’s leadership, we passed the infrastructure law, investing billions in important work like the restoration of the Columbia River Basin, as we’re poised to make historic investments to combat the climate crisis through the Inflation Reduction Act, which will deliver relief to families dealing with the devastating impacts of our greatest climate challenges.”

At Broughton Beach off of Marine Drive in Portland, Regan, Merkley and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, along with Tribal and state leaders, announced a five-year, $79 million investment from the infrastructure law to protect the Columbia River Basin. This includes $6.9 million in Clean Water Act grants to be awarded this year for projects to reduce toxins in fish and water, and address climate impacts in communities.

Tribal Council member Kathleen George, who also serves at the chairwoman of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, also attended the event.

“The need is huge,” George said. “The time is now. Our fish and rivers can’t wait. We have built and fed our communities on the riches of our rivers. We have taken, but very rarely do we give back.”

Other Tribal attendees included Umatilla Board of Trustees member Corinne Sams, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Executive Director and Yakama Nation member Aja DeCoteau and EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller.

The Columbia River Basin covers almost 260,000 square miles and spans 16 federally recognized Tribal nations and seven states from Oregon and Washington to Wyoming.

Over decades, it has been contaminated by toxic waste from agriculture, forestry, recreation and hydroelectric power generation, which has harmed the health of wildlife and left some fish species threatened, endangered or unsafe for consumption.