It was disturbing to read The Oregonian article last week about DEQ’s effort to assist a major industrial polluter in circumventing Federal emission laws: DEQ to help polluter seek federal break.

This article is not about jobs vs the environment. It is about DEQ’s discretionary authority and the transparency of the process the agency uses to set priorities. It demonstrates the worst fear residents have about the alleged science that tells us industry is not a significant part of the air pollution problem in our city. Instead it is very possible to infer this science masks an agency bias, that while employing no economists on staff, the agency still chooses to weigh the financial interests of the industrial facilities that the DEQ is charged with the duty to regulate. This calls into question every aspect of the DEQ’s Air Quality Division, including its basic assumptions for the Portland Air Toxics Solution which specifically has said addressing individual point sources of pollution will be excluded from consideration.

I appreciate that our elected officials like city and state representatives and the governor, may at times be faced with these kinds of tough decisions. Decisions that must look at what serves the greater public good: economy or environment. But this type of over arching decision should not be in the hands of the Department of Environmental Quality which has a mission statement to specifically safeguard the environment and public health and well-being.

In the time since I was given the opportunity to testify at the Health Interim Workgroup hearing, I have been trying to consider what legislative/policy steps might be taken to fix this problem. I have also taken part in the first of six meetings of the Portland Air Toxics Solution (PATS) Advisory Committee. And I have researched existing programs that are better addressing the mitigation of industrial pollutants. There are two things that I think could be specifically interesting for Portland and Oregon to consider:

1. Re-framing PATS to model after the Louisville, KY STAR program. This program brought industry to the table and held them to enforceable emissions standards based on a “no greater than 1 in a million risk” of additional cancers for any one source of toxic pollution. With 32 of 37 industrial facilities in compliance within 2 years, the city has seen dramatic drops in toxic air pollution including a 75% drop in 1,3 Butadiene. Compare this to PATS, which has already invested 10 years to just define the problem and is projecting the program, which will ultimately produce voluntary, not mandatory, guidelines, will also take another 10 yrs to realize results. That is almost two generations of children.

2. Consider a state version of “Kids Safe Chemical Act.” legislation introduced by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Representatives Solis (D-CA) and Waxman (D-CA) to protect Americans, especially children from chemicals introduced by industry, by putting the burden on companies to prove they are safe before they can introduce them into the environment.

While most of the provisions of this bill are designed to combat the unfettered use of toxic chemicals in consumer products designed for children, I believe much of this same language could inform the industrial air pollution regulatory process to better safeguard the air quality of the communities where our children live, play and go to school:

Highlights of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act of 2008

Require Basic Data on Industrial Chemicals
Chemical companies must demonstrate the safety of their products, backed up with credible evidence. Chemicals that lack minimum data could not be legally manufactured in or imported into the United States. [Section 505]

Place the Burden on Industry to Demonstrate Safety
EPA must systematically review whether industry has met this burden of proof for all industrial chemicals within 15 years of adoption. [Section 503]

Restrict the Use of Dangerous Chemicals Found in Newborn Babies
Hazardous chemicals detected in human cord blood would be immediately targeted for restrictions on their use. [Section 504]

Use New Scientific Evidence to Protect Health

EPA must consider and is authorized to require additional testing as new science and new testing methods emerge, including for health effects at low doses or during fetal or infant development and for nanomaterials. [Section 503]

Establish National Program to Assess Human Exposure
The federal government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to expand existing analysis of pollutants in people to help identify chemicals that threaten the health of children, workers, or other vulnerable populations. [Section 505]

Expand the Public Right to Know on Toxic Chemicals
New, Internet-accessible public database on chemical hazards and uses will inform companies, communities, and consumers. EPA is to rein in excessive industry claims of confidentiality. [Sections 511 and 512]

Invest in Long-Term Solutions
New funding and incentives are provided for development of safer alternatives and technical assistance in “green chemistry.” [Section 508]

I sincerely believe that the engagement and leadership of our elected officials brings new hope for optimism on this issue of turning back the clock of unfettered industrial emissions. It is time to take the burden off the DEQ to manage the huge conflicted tasks of safeguarding the environment and public health and well being with balancing the interests of the industrial polluters the agency regulates. Specific policy and legislation will provide the clear framework for the regulatory process. I look forward to working with the elected officials, at the city, county, metro and state level, to realize this.

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