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Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC)

Cleaner Air Oregon

January 17, 2017

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NEDC’s participation in the new air toxics regulatory reform effort, Cleaner Air Oregon, is in full-swing.  Thus far, we’ve attended several full-day advisory committee meetings, and spent many hours collaborating with a wide range of awesome public health, neighborhood organization, academic, local government and environmental justice representatives involved in the process.  

 

Throughout the early stages of this process, we’ve been impressed by the level of competence and professionalism demonstrated by Oregon state government.  Staff with both Oregon DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority have tackled complex scientific questions, surveyed strategies used by other states, synthesized a massive volume of complex information, and provided it in well-presented condensed portions to the advisory committee over a tight time-frame.

 

When the Portland air toxics controversy erupted onto the scene earlier this year, it quickly became obvious that Oregon was far behind other states in regulating and controlling the emission of toxic air pollutants.  There is simply no system in place to identify which sources are emitting which pollutants, let alone any mechanisms to require and demonstrate reductions of those pollutants over time.  Other states have been doing this for decades.  How did we fall so far behind?

 

Observing the Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee discussions provides an insightful window into how we ended up here in the first place.  Early in the process, old guard industrial toxic polluters began echoing three untenable themes: 1) everything is fine the way it is; 2) change is really hard; and 3) innovation costs too much.  Though we have seen this recur time and time again in other contexts, it is particularly disappointing to hear it yet again concerning toxic air pollution.

 

Extensive research as well as state and federal agency cost-benefit analyses over recent decades has repeatedly shown that the cost of environmental regulation is more than offset by a broad range of economic, public health and jobs-related benefits. This is particularly the case for air pollution regulations.


We will continue to push back against resistance to change from the industrial sector, and thanks to support from the Meyer Memorial Trust, we’ll be working during the upcoming year with partners at Neighbors for Clean Air and Portland State University to combine the scientific, legal research and neighborhood organizing advocacy necessary to drive meaningful air toxics regulatory reform in Oregon.