Boardman Coal Plant

Boardman Coal Plant is an electrical generating facility in Boardman, Oregon, and is the only remaining coal-fired plant in the state. It is also the largest single polluter in Oregon, and has prompted numerous complaints from residents, environmental groups and other industries that employ cleaner emission practices.

Completed in 1975, the Boardman Coal plant was allowed because the emissions restrictions were much less strict at that time; the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments would have made it impossible to open such a facility, but the plant managed to begin operations just before this important legislation began. Owned and operated by Portland General Electric, the plant was constructed to produce a total of 550 megawatts of electricity, and this is exactly the maximum output at the station today.

Even in its early years of operation the public realized that the plant employed outdated technology and many called for immediate improvements to the plant’s emissions controls. And as with many power stations built in the United States at that time, it is likely that asbestos and other dangerous materials were used in its construction. From the 1970s until today, studies performed regularly at the Boardman Coal Plant reveal that it is the emitter of roughly two thirds of Oregon’s sulfur dioxide, one third of the state’s nitrous oxide, and over 7 percent of the industrial carbon dioxide produced by industrial plants in Oregon.

Today the Boardman Coal Plant is facing closure unless it is restructured to meet air pollution requirements by the year 2020. The operators have looked into the possibility of converting the station to a biomass fuel plant, drastically reducing chemical emissions in years to come.  However, it appears that as of December 2010, the decision was made to shut down the plant by the 2020 deadline.

Because it was built in the 1970s, the Boardman Coal Plant likely followed the pattern of other power plants and used  asbestos as a heat resistant material and fire retardant. The friable asbestos fibers are a silicate compound that offers protection against excessive heat, and were often used to cover steam pipes, made into tiles or wall panels, and were included in protective clothing. However, mesothelioma is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers, as are various forms of lung cancer and the more common asbestosis; this has caused the material to be removed from most buildings in the United States and elsewhere. However past employees at the Boardman Coal Plant may have been exposed for years to asbestos fibers that had become airborne, and are not yet showing symptoms of the major health complications associated with this material.


Learn, Scott. (December 9, 2010). “PGE’s coal-fired Boardman plant gets approval to close in 2020, with fewer pollution controls.” Retrieved March 29, 2011 from The Oregonian.

Lewis and Clark University

Oregon Department of Energy