Emissions nonprofit Cascade Sierra Solutions folds in audit's wake

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 4/8/2014

There was a time when states, counties and cities relied on Cascade Sierra Solutions as an expert go-between for truck owners and the governmental bodies that wanted to limit diesel emissions.

Founded by a former regional environmental agency employee, the nonprofit found gold by handling the administration of federal stimulus-funded grant programs to help truck owners purchase anti-idling devices, diesel particulate filter systems and other emissions upgrades.

No longer.

According to the company’s website, Lane County Circuit Court in Oregon approved a receiver to handle the “winding down,” liquidation and shuttering of Cascade Sierra’s operations.

The country’s largest environmental administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, audited Cascade Sierra two years ago and issued a stinging report about the nonprofit’s accounting practices. The EPA said the federal government should receive a refund of $9 million in grant money incorrectly handled by Cascade Sierra Solutions.

Cascade Sierra reportedly owes $19 million to 13 secured creditors. The Statesman Journal newspaper reported the company has been battling legal and financial issues for the last two years before closing its operations in March. The EPA audit focused on Cascade Sierra’s practice of using federal grant moneys to entice banks to provide loans for truck owners. The company even set up an investment fund that raised $9 million in cash for more truck equipment loans.

Cascade Sierra’s also made a practice of combining federal and private moneys.

Based in Portland, Cascade Sierra made a splash as local emissions funding and regulation began ramping up along the West Coast in the mid-’2000s. In 2006, the company partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the states of Oregon, California and Washington to help truck owners install retrofitted EPA-approved SmartWay technology onto long-haul trucks.

At the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2007, the company made money by positioning itself as the conduit of money flowing between government grant programs and truck owners. Its business expanded to include port grant programs in South Carolina and $1 million in federal stimulus money for truck owners in New England.

Cascade Sierra facilitated loans and operated showrooms with APUs, generator sets and other equipment designed to cut truck emissions. In recent years, the company even sold kits to be installed on trucks for specific shore power plug-ins. A reported $61 million was funneled through the company, which once employed 57 people, according to the Statesman Journal.

Cascade Sierra came under fire in 2010 after an investigation showed the company had helped El Paso, TX-based Mesilla Valley Transportation obtain about $4.5 million in Oregon energy tax credits for “energy saving equipment.” The tax credits for the Texas motor carrier wiped out more than 60 percent of Oregon’s tax exemptions for trucking businesses during a two-year span, though Mesilla Valley Transportation reportedly ran less than 1 percent of its miles in Oregon.

Company founder Sharon Banks’ profile on the business networking social media site LinkedIn still listed her as Cascade Sierra’s CEO Tuesday, though several news reports said she had resigned in June 2013. Banks once reportedly earned $215,000 annually at Cascade Sierra.

The company was ordered liquidated March 31.

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