Neighbors for Clean Air was founded almost eight years ago on the principle that everyone deserves clean safe air to breathe where they live, play, go to school and go to work. Unfortunately, what our founding members discovered in 2009, was that our regulations left a significant health gap between what was safe to breathe and what was legal for polluters to emit from their smokestacks. And worse, in most cases, the state had no idea what levels of toxics were emitted into our neighborhoods.
In the ensuing years, our member communities fought hard, and worked directly with, the sources of pollution to craft health protective and enforceable standards facility by facility. This was a breakthrough, and it was obvious throughout the process that companies who were willing or otherwise felt compelled to, could significantly reduce toxic air pollution beyond what the state or federal permits regulators required. Unfortunately, this was hardly a solution that could ensure every community could be protected, because it relied so heavily on the voluntary participation of the industrial facilities. Let’s be honest, most businesses don’t want to admit their facilities pose a risk to the community, and they were unwilling to work with communities directly to reduce pollution.
Enter Governor Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon initiative. In the wake of the release of the US Forest Service Moss Study, showing widespread contamination by industrial heavy metals in Portland residential neighborhoods, the governor stepped up and promised the most sweeping reform of Oregon’s Air Permit program in its history by transitioning to a program based fundamentally on reducing human health risk from industrial air pollution. The concept was simple: gather more comprehensive data about industrial air pollution and base emissions limits for individual facilities on a health based standard to ensure healthy safe air in our neighborhoods, no matter if there is one large facility or scores of smaller ones.
It has been nearly two years since the Governor mandated the state develop these new rules. In that time, there have been hundreds of hours of public meetings, including an initial technical advisory committee made up of national experts, establishment of the Cleaner Air Oregon Rulemaking Advisory Committee, consisting of 24 individuals representing large and small businesses, government, and a wide range of public advocates. NCA participated in the rule making advisory committee, backed by a team of public interest rockstars; the dream team included the legal expertise of Northwest Environmental Defense Center and CRAG Law Center, and public health experts from Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Public Health Association and Multnomah County Environmental Health, and the community advocate experts at OPAL Environmental Justice and Beyond Toxics. And we regularly met with the growing cadre of community partners to ensure broad dissemination of information was available to every group invested in the outcome of this process.
Which brings us to the next 20 days. It’s your turn. To be honest, the draft rules released by DEQ don’t represent the best the state could do to reduce toxic pollution from industry and protect our children and our most impacted and vulnerable populations. But they could. And our rockstar of experts have created some easy tools for you to get up to speed and make meaningful comments to help Governor Brown fulfill her promise to have the most health protective air permit program in the nation. In our current political climate, it is crucial that we do this at the state level.
We’ve worked too hard for this to give up now. Please make sure to submit your comments through the online form. And make sure to get it in before 4pm on December 22nd, 2017: tell your story about why clean air is important to you, and be part of making history when Oregon passes the nation’s first air permit rules fully based on human health exposure – not industry feasibility.
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