DEQ Director Says Cleaner Air Oregon Will Continue Without Funding

Advocates say lobbyists from Associated Oregon Industries twisted enough arms in the Oregon Senate to kill an assessment bill, not because they’re afraid of paying, but because of what a proper analysis might direct the state to do to make them stop polluting.

The director of the Department of Environmental Quality told lawmakers on Friday that the Cleaner Air Oregon program will continue, despite the defeat of House Bill 2269, which would have levied a fee on polluters to help fund the analysis of their impact on public health.

“If the Legislature does not provide any money for Cleaner Air Oregon, we will slow down work but we will continue with the funding that was approved in 2016,” said Richard Whitman, the DEQ director.

The Cleaner Air Oregon program was designed to set new rules limiting pollution based on the impact of factories or other sources of air pollution on local communities. The program was set up last year after the outcry over heavy-metal pollution from Bullseye Glass.

HB 2269 would have raised about $1 million from 2,525 permitted air polluters, an average of $433 each. Major polluters, like hazardous waste incinerators, would have paid $1,456, while smaller sources like gas stations and dry cleaners would have paid less than $50 apiece, according to the Oregonian.

The bill was drafted by Gov. Kate Brown, but the Associated Oregon Industries lobbied for lawmakers to scrap the it, and the governor failed to get the bill across the line. Her spokesman, Chris Pair, did not respond requests to comment made by The Lund Report or the Oregonian.

When DEQ Director Whitman was grilled on this issue by Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, he said that the agency could not raid other parts of its budget to prop up the program. House Speaker Tina Kotek reportedly plans to try again during the 2018 short legislative session to assess the fees, but industry-friendly Democrats in the Senate balked at the bill this time.

Mary Peveto of Neighbors for Clean Air said industry lobbyists killed the assessment bill, not because they were worried about paying the fees, but because they wanted to suppress the information that the report would contain and avoid long-term accountability.

“They fight funding so the agency can’t do anything,” she said.

 

Reach Chris Gray at chris@thelundreport.org

 

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