Monday marked the final scheduled meeting of the Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee. I am feeling a little chagrined this morning, as my participation did not end how I would have hoped.
Frustrated by DEQ’s persistent accommodation to industry objections, I walked out before the meeting ended. And I left too soon.
I should have known.
From the beginning I have felt that it was first and foremost important to be at the table. Many activists, more experienced with working with DEQ, said that it is not worth it. But I knew that the Portland Air Toxics Solutions program was ambitious and unprecedented; and I still firmly believe the work has incredible value.
It turns out, so do most of my 28 colleagues who served on the committee as well.
The point of controversy that emerged among the committee over the last few weeks probably sounds petty to an outsider. It turned on the fine point of whether the committee work would culminate in a final committee report that, absent absolute consensus, reflected the work, varied opinions, and the recommendations of the committee members most universally determined to address the problems of toxic air pollution in the region. DEQ had in the last week rejected the plan to issue a report from the committee, instead authoring their own report that was inclusive of committee recommendations.
As I said, it was a fine point.
What was at stake, in my mind and others who were working on the public’s behalf, was the critical need to substantiate the work of DEQ and the PATSAC in defining the air toxics problem in the Portland metro area, as much as the soft strategy recommendations on which the committee could build consensus. We never expected the regulated community to buy off on bearing the brunt of reducing toxic emissions in the region, but that should not mean that a caucus of industry backed representatives should be able to block the data and common sense strategies that the public – and those that represent them – should be able to come up with to protect our children and our communities from toxic air pollution.
In the end, DEQ has said that a report from the committee will be issued. Next steps are DEQ considering that work and making recommendations to the Environmental Quality Commission.
Of course, in many ways, our work is just beginning. Armed with better data, and with a broad consensus of understanding among our elected officials at the city and county and regional governments as well as other public agencies charged with the protecting the health and well being of all residents, citizens of Portland are better equipped to advocate for themselves and work to ensure that everyone, regardless of income, race or any other reasons has a right-to-know what is in the air they breathe, and that that air will not harm them.