Regional Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Dennis McLerran addressed the importance of solving climate change and cleaning up the environment at a Portland City Club forum Friday.

“If we don’t address climate change now, our kids and grandkids won’t forgive us,” McLerran said in a Q&A discussion with Oregon Public Broadcasting environment reporter Cassandra Profita.

Among the climate change concerns McLerran addressed was the recent EPA proposal to cut coal plant emissions 30 percent by 2030. Power plants produce 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, so any serious effort to counter climate change must reduce their emissions, he said.

Though McLerran conceded energy rates will rise under the EPA coal-plant rule touted by President Obama, efforts to improve energy efficiency and find alternative ways to meet the new rule are projected to actually lower total outlays for energy, he said.

"Our belief is by 2030 the power costs per household should be lower," he said.

He hopes states will take this proposal as an opportunity to implement energy efficiency and other improvements.

McLerran also discussed the toxins in the Columbia River. Many of these are caused from pesticides in agriculture run-off, PCB’s from building dams and chemicals used in manufacturing.

However, he pointed out that some of the pollution is a result of “activities you and I do,” including fertilizing lawns, dust from vehicle brake pads and flushing pharmaceutical drugs down toilets. He said public education is the best way to address this, citing examples such as programs where people can turn in prescription drugs rather than flush them down the toilet.

In audience questions after his address, one City Club member brought up the 14 year-delay in cleaning up Portland’s Superfund site on the Willamette River, asking what people could do to help the project move along faster, adding the delay is hurting businesses.

“We all want it to go faster. The superfund is a beast,” McLerran responded, adding that a lot of time is being spent collecting data and working closely with affected parties to “get it right.”

Despite the recent announcement of further delays by EPA, McLerran said the agency is now cooperating well with potentially responsible polluters in the Lower Willamette Group, which has been at odds with the EPA.

"That's really going well right now," he said.

McLerran has a $300 million budget for EPA's Region 10, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and 271 tribal governments.

Kate Stringer can be reached at 503-357-3181 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @KateStringer2

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