Cheers: To new clout for Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. In just her second term, the 34-year-old Camas Republican has been tabbed for a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Committee members are in a position to make sure their districts get their fair share — critics would say even more than their fair share — of discretionary federal spending. That includes, of course, the Columbia River Crossing project. Herrera Beutler will be the only Washington representative on House Appropriations; Democratic Sen. Patty Murray serves on Senate Appropriations and chairs its Transportation subcommittee. Herrera Beutler will bid for some subcommittees but assignments are yet to be made.
Jeers: To anyone who takes the results of an insurance company's recent survey as proof that tolls on the Columbia River Crossing won't work. PEMCO Insurance commissioned the poll, which found 77 percent of drivers in Clark County and 52 percent in the Portland area said they would avoid the tolls by taking Interstate 205. Although the survey's sample size makes the margin of error fairly large — nearly 14 percent in Clark County — we don't doubt the drivers' resolve.
But when the rubber meets the road, we'll need to remember the behavior of our brethren in Seattle, where new tolls on the Highway 520 Lake Washington floating bridge were imposed last year. Traffic instantly fell as drivers diverted to the Interstate 90 bridges or roads around the lake.
They soon realized, however, that inconvenience outweighed the cost, and the state reports toll revenues on the bridge are now meeting or exceeding projections. It's unfortunate that tolls will be required to build the CRC, but they will serve their purpose, just as they did nearly a century ago when the original Interstate Bridge was constructed.
Cheers: To a new coalition to prevent drug abuse in Battle Ground. The Prevent Together: Battle Ground Prevention Alliance will target underage drinking, marijuana use and prescription drug abuse as its first priorities. Partners include Educational Service District 112, Battle Ground Public Schools and the city of Battle Ground. The group has a coordinator, teacher Cindi Schroeder, and will apply for $500,000 in grant funding that would allow the program to be greatly expanded.
Jeers: To a U.S. Forest Service decision allowing a Canadian mining firm to prospect for minerals near Mount St. Helens. The Bureau of Land Management has yet to issue its ruling, but if it follows suit, Ascot Resources will be allowed up to 63 exploratory holes 1,000 feet deep at 23 different sites on the forest. The exploration will take place just outside the northern boundary of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The monument is a living laboratory as scientists monitor the recovery from the cataclysmic eruption, and as tourism and recreational opportunities continue to build.
So the decision to allow mineral exploration — without even requiring an environmental impact statement — is a troubling development. Suppose Ascot discovers a wealth of minerals. Will the Forest Service then allow a large mining operation so close to the volcanic monument, with the resulting noise and pollution? Better to address these issues now, not later.
Cheers: To testing of alternative fuels for Portland General Electric's Boardman, Ore. power plant. The coal-fired plant puts pollutants into the air that drift into the Columbia River Gorge, and that is one of the reasons PGE must phase out the plant's use of coal. Now PGE and Washington State University are testing cleaner alternatives, including giant cane, wheat straw and a fiber derived from cow manure. The goal is to have the refueled plant available to go online when demand peaks and/or wind and hydropower production ebbs.