Oregon Governor’s Air Quality Plan Scuttled by State Regulatory Agency

Published September 18, 2017

In the face of concerns raised by the business community about Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed air quality plan, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) instituted less stringent air emission restrictions than those Brown called for.

The DEQ’s July 21 draft also added a provision giving local politicians input into the amounts of chemicals the state’s largest sources of pollution are allowed to emit and the actions to be imposed to reduce pollution.

Under the new rules, the DEQ’s director would be allowed to exempt businesses in the state emitting the largest amount of regulated pollutants from new emission restrictions if the companies have consulted the state health department and local politicians and installed agreed-upon pollution controls.

Emissions Declining Steadily

John Charles, president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, says Oregon’s air quality has been improving steadily, indicating the current rules and regulations are working.

“The fact is almost every year the state DEQ puts out a state air quality report easily found on its website, and before there was an Internet, they published print versions of every report,” Charles said. “If you go and look at virtually any pollutant of concern, you will see the trend is down, down, down over time.

“The measured levels of pollution have gone down over time and on average, regardless of where you live,” said Charles. “People in Portland, Eugene, Salem, or Corvallis, wherever one lives in Oregon, people are breathing the cleanest air in the history of the state.”

Governor’s Power Remains

Although state law does not allow the governor to regulate air pollution directly, Charles says that doesn’t mean she has no influence over environmental rules or the DEQ is in the pocket of industry.

“While the governor is one step removed from the actual process of regulating air and water pollution, she does appoint the five commissioners who run the agency charged with cleaning up Oregon’s air and water, and they, in turn, hire hundreds of technical people who work on the staff of DEQ,” Charles said. “So if someone is implying industry has control, I don’t buy it for a minute.

“Industry is constantly playing defense against the state,” said Charles. “The exemption DEQ can offer businesses is not some unintentionally created loophole allowing them to get whatever standards they want. Rather, the rules being proposed have gone through significant vetting and are being thoughtfully enacted by DEQ.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.