In a region that lives under the threat of activity along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, we can’t take earth moving events lightly. But this week, the ground moved. This ground moving was not the buildings tumbling down kind, but more the biblical mountain moving kind. Where the public’s faith, hard work, and persistence paid off to see the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality move positively in the direction of developing health based air emissions regulations.
This week the Environmental Quality Commission voted to adopt new rules, referred to as the Colored Art Glass Manufacturing rule or CAGM, which mark huge progress toward visioning what health based air emissions regulations could look like, by incorporating many of the key comments written by Crag Law Center attorney Chris Winter, on behalf of Neighbors for Clean Air and our partner public health advocates. Specifically, DEQ strengthened the permanent CAGM rule from its first temporary version by incorporating much of what the public asked for:
- Reducing the applicability threshold for the rule from 10 tons per year of hazardous air pollutant- containing glass to five tons per year.
- Making the rule apply statewide rather than only in the Portland area.
- Changing the standard that confirms a control device is working from the 99.0% capture efficiency standard to a ‘grain loading’ particulate matter standard at the control device outlet of 0.005 gr/dscf (grains of particulate per dry standard cubic foot of air.)
- Changing the rule’s 24-hour health benchmark for hexavalent chromium from 36 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter of air) to five ng/m3, based on a re-evaluation of the exposure levels that could pose an unacceptable risk to human health.
There are a plenty of ways these rules don’t go far enough. And it is likely DEQ will get an earful from the many folks who still live everyday in high risk zones for toxic pollutants as the agency wraps up its statewide public forums on the Cleaner Air Oregon program next week, Wednesday October 5th at the Portland Convention Center. (If you plan to go – join our Rally for Clean Air at 5pm)
But it is important to take a moment and reflect on how truly monumental a shift this rule adoption represents in the trajectory of an agency which has spent nearly two decades articulating the public health risk of air toxics, yet didn’t adopt a single recommendation (much less rule) to reduce them. Until this week. With one new rule, for one category of sources of toxic heavy metals.
This is the basis of hope and optimism to ride in on as we commence the next phase of the nearly two year Cleaner Air Oregon broader rule making process. This process, like promulgating this one new colored glass manufacturing rule demonstrates, will take time and frustrate many that participate. But the promise of success is what can sustain us. The promise that Oregon can truly lead the nation in recommitting to the true values of sustainability that go deeply beyond green washing platitudes. The promise that outcomes instead embrace innovation and a true commitment to environmental responsibility, social equity, cultural vitality and economic health.
In the end, we know, and now have proof, there are common sense ways that air regulations can provide predictable guidance to businesses to ensure their operations don’t pose or add to unacceptable public health risks in any of our communities. The regulatory certainty Governor Brown promises through Cleaner Air Oregon will allow all businesses large and small to identify problems earlier and plan ahead to address them, simultaneously giving the public reliable measuring sticks to literally, breathe easier.