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State projects clearer skies

PORTLAND — The state's plan for improving visibility in wilderness areas anticipates clearer skies at Hells Canyon and the Columbia River Gorge by 2018, but continued haze in southwest Oregon.

The plan released this week projects improved views in parts of northern Oregon because of more efficient cars and, more importantly, efforts to cut pollution 80 percent in the next decade at Portland General Electric's coal plant in Boardman, about 150 miles east of Portland.

Other scenic areas, such as Crater Lake and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, won't see much improvement, partly because of expected wildfire.

The plan also fails to tackle other manmade sources of haze, such as dairies, field burning and ships using dirty fuel.

Andy Ginsberg, air quality administrator for the Department of Environmental Quality, said Oregon and other states placed their initial focus on industrial and power plants at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state will study other manmade haze sources before the plan's next five-year update, he said, with an eye toward getting on pace for returning visibility to natural levels by 2064 — a national goal under the Clean Air Act.

"This is a long-term plan," Ginsberg told The Oregonian newspaper. "People will gradually see improvements, but it's not going to be dramatic."

They would be if you could jump ahead 56 years. If Oregon hits its 2064 haze-reduction goals, the visibility at Mount Hood, Three Sisters and Crater Lake on the worst haze days would increase to 100 miles from the current 50 miles, the state projects.

The DEQ has scheduled five hearings next month for public comment on the haze plan. The first is Jan. 6 in Portland.