Clean air for a price

  Owners of the Centralia Coal Plant in Washington want as much as $80 million in state tax breaks to stop polluting the air over Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Saint Helens National Monument.

Although the Clean Air Act requires the coal plant to install state-of-the-art scrubbers worth $300 million, officials at PacifiCorp, the primary plant owner, have argued such expenses would bankrupt the facility and put more than 600 people out of work. A plan devised by the company and several federal and state agencies asks Washington state to help.

The proposed $80 million tax break is "a form of corporate welfare," says Nancy Holbrook of Northwest Environmental Advocates. Holbrook finds the company's poverty plea hard to swallow, noting that it recently dished out $1.6 billion to purchase an Australian utility.

Whether or not Washington's state Legislature decides in January to grant the tax breaks, the coal plant will likely be forced to clean up its stacks. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Northwest Environmental Advocates has pressed the EPA to take steps towards enforcing the Clean Air Act.

*Patrick Dowd

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