fresh air flickr LunaDiRimmelOregon regulators last week rejected a proposal from Portland General Electric to shut down the state’s only coal-fired power plant by 2020, decades earlier than expected. At first, people might wonder why they didn’t jump at the chance to rid Oregon of a plant that’s dirtying the air we breathe with dangerous chemicals like mercury and changing the climate.

Now, the answer is clear: they have an even better plan.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality wants the owners of the Boardman coal plant in Northeast Oregon to either:

1. Close the plant even earlier—in 2015 or 2016—and spend $35 million in the meantime to reduce pollution.

2. Close the plant down in 2018 and spend $100 million to reduce pollution.

3. Close the plant down in 2020 and spend $320 million to reduce pollution.

Boardman operator PGE isn’t happy about the proposal. The utility wanted to keep the coal plant running until 2020 with only a $41-million investment in pollution controls. But Oregon regulators said that wouldn’t keep the air clean enough in the intervening decade. So it offered the utility a pretty simple deal: the longer it wants to keep burning an antiquated, dirty, 19th-century fuel like coal, the more it will have to spend to deal with pollution.

For anyone who prefers their air free of mercury, haze and acid rain, it seems like a fair trade.

Fresh air photo courtesy of Flickr user LunaDiRimmel under a Creative Commons license.