I think it would be a misrepresentation to call this an official endorsement, as if I was in a position to offer meaningful weight, so let’s stick with political musing. I intend only to share my thoughts, and encourage all of you to choose your candidates wisely, vote with purpose, and to remind the candidates why you voted for them. I don’t think our air toxics problem is a litmus test issue for political candidates, yet. But I do think that the way candidates, and already elected officials, engage on this issue is very telling about their attitudes toward their jobs and the concerns of their constituents.
There have been some notable efforts by our representatives to look at what jurisdiction they have in the area of air pollution, and how best they can use it. Representative Mitch Greenlick has been particularly active, making the connection between pollution and public health, he has been looking at ways to plug gaps in our legislation that will safeguard our kids from exposure to air toxics. His leadership on the House Health Committee has galvanized that group to push for new policy for the 2011 legislative session. Notable support from that committee has come from Rep. Ben Cannon and Sen. Suzanne Bonamici.
Other efforts to engage public officials has been less gratifying. From our Governor’s office which oversees the DEQ and Environmental Quality Commission which is the agency’s rule making body, we have received nothing but form letter replies, and responses from the DEQ officials to whom the letters were forwarded. I sat through yesterday’s Governor’s debate on the environment, and it is clear that either Democratic candidate, Bradbury or Kitzhaber, will bring a more purposeful mandate to our environmental policies than the current resident of that office.
Multnomah County officials, while responsible for our County Health Department and Public Schools, say that the County has no authority over air pollution, even if it is adversely affecting the health of children while at school.
The city, which has authority over nuisance ordinances between neighbors and businesses, does not seem engaged to move on the ongoing -and classic- nuisance complaints of odors and dust when they come from one of the large industrial sources of pollution. Mayor Adams and City Council member Amanda Fritz are very aware of the NW neighborhood’s ongoing struggle with industrial emissions, and seem genuinely supportive of our efforts; and yet again, there seems to be lacking any specific authority or jurisdiction over the air pollution issue. I think for both the city and the county, this pattern of evasion underscores the need to put air toxic pollution, and enforcement against offenders, into the hands of the elected officials closest to the sources.
Which brings me to Metro and Rex Burkholder. As the nation’s only elected regional government, Metro was put in place specifically because – as their website says – “clean air and clean water do not stop at city limits or county lines. Neither does the need for jobs, a thriving economy and good transportation choices for people and businesses in our region. Voters have asked Metro to help with the challenges that cross those lines and affect the 25 cities and three counties in the Portland metropolitan area.”
Since Rex Burkholder first showed up at the Air Quality Town Hall Meeting we held last spring in the Chapman ES Auditorium, he has continued to be an ardent supporter of our effort. I believe, that if Rex were Metro President, he would consider taking a look at the lack of city, county and regional jurisdiction over the “nuisance” of air pollution, and give us a representative, closer than Salem, which citizens could turn to in resolving the oppressive presence of industrial odors and black dust, which affect the region’s residential livability. His track record of innovation and leadership from a founder of BTA and assisting in the establishment of the Center for a Livable Future demonstrate that he not only has leadership skills, but the unique capability to look at creative new options to solve old problems. And that’s why I support Rex for Metro President.