Picking the wrong fight


    If opponents of a proposed cell tower on the roof of Southern Oregon University’s Science Building want to stop new transmission devices, they need to work to change federal law, not rail at Planning Commission members who have no power to block the installation.

    Verizon wants to install the tower to improve cellphone coverage.

    Some opponents say they suffer adverse health effects from electromagnetic radiation, but Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit local governments from considering health or environmental considerations when deciding whether to site cell towers. So no matter how convincing opponents’ arguments may be, the Planning Commission cannot take them into consideration.

    There is some evidence that cellphone radiation at close range has caused cancer in laboratory rats. The evidence for other health effects — sleep disturbances, headaches, fatigue — is less conclusive.

    In any case, cell towers already exist in Ashland, and many people use cellphones and Wi-Fi, watch television and absorb electromagnetic radiation in their homes and virtually everywhere they go. If that radiation is causing health effects, one cell tower more or less seems unlikely to change that in any significant way.

    Opponents can and likely will appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which will delay the project, but that body is unlikely to overturn the local action as long as land-use requirements were followed. Targeting the 1996 FCC rule, as one local organizer vows to do, has more chance of success than fighting a land-use matter on medical grounds.

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