Cleaner Air Oregon Action Page

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.

Draft Rules Available for Public Comment

Oregon Releases Draft Air Program Rules for Public Comment

Public comment open until December 22

Submit comments here:


WHAT CLEANER AIR OREGON COULD BE: A bold program that drives industry innovation in emission controls by setting clear health standards, prioritizing authentic community engagement, and driving accelerated action with meaningful deadlines, ensuring all communities have healthy clean safe air.

WHAT THE DRAFT CURRENTLY IS: Oregon’s new program proposal requires significantly more from industry with regard to reporting emissions, and that’s good. However, if history serves us, its emphasis on regulating a small subset of polluting companies coupled with allowances for high risk levels for cancer and other diseases–and its reliance on fully agency-resourced analysis and implementation–ensures that effective pollution reduction will be slow, and potentially elusive altogether.  In the current draft, the question of adequate funding for the Department of Environmental Quality continues to be the political juggernaut that will ultimately determine success or failure of CAO.



Governor Kate Brown responded quickly to the revelations about Portland’s air toxins by creating Cleaner Air Oregon, a rigorous program that would fundamentally shift Oregon’s regulations from technology based rules to health based standards. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) staff brought visionary ideas to the table that made us confident that Oregon could indeed embark on an innovative effort to clean up our air. Under successful pressure from industry, however, the program was watered down from the promised ambitious, health-based program with well-defined and strong health standards, to one that instead prioritizes the profit margins of regulated facilities. In this way the program replicates current technology-based standards as opposed to establishing innovative mechanisms for protecting public health. We continue to be committed to ensuring that Cleaner Air Oregon is a visionary program that would set a national standard on air quality and environmental stewardship.



Returning to the earlier work of DEQ/OHA staff, there are some alterations from the original program that,  if restored, could also restore the faith of the public in the public health protectiveness of the CAO.

  1. Existing facilities should have the same health standards as proposed new facilities. The different standards between existing and new facilities shifts the focus away from public health. The public is affected by toxic emissions regardless of a facility’s age.
  2. The program currently proposes a hard cap of 500 cancer deaths per million people per facility, beyond which permits will not be granted. This does not support or encourage innovation or improvement, and is essentially the same as no cap, potentially allowing an offending industry to avoid mitigation or curtailment.
  3. The area cap program was the most innovative idea that came out of the early research. It originally included consideration of community sources, such as diesel and construction-related emissions, as well as multiple industrial sources impacting one community. These community sources pose a significant public health risk in many neighborhoods, and if the area cap program is to protect those most vulnerable to air pollution, these sources must be taken into consideration. Just because these emissions are not associated with industrial facilities does not mean we should be allowing further polluting industry to be sited there, where residents are already vulnerable to air pollution and its attendant health impacts.
  4. CAO should apply to all companies upon adoption, require immediate action, and not be artificially restricted by agency funding and resources.  Any restrictions to implementation are a resource question to be determined ultimately by the state legislature’s allocation of funds, but are inappropriate to be included in the rules themselves. We oppose the agencies including a cap on the maximum number of facilities under regulatory consideration as that number should be based on agency resources and not included in the rulemaking itself.  We are committed to advocating for full CAO funding and trust that the agencies will enforce these rules.
  5. CAO requires meaningful public participation. Effective public engagement throughout this process also requires prioritization of the areas most impacted by air pollution, dissemination of all information in accessible language, and advance notification for community members. Language translation is critical for spoken and printed material along with childcare services, food, and transportation assistance for those who need it. As an environmental justice principle, it is our responsibility to bring the information to the community for their meaningful  input and not vice versa.  

DEQ and OHA were responsive to community requests for multiple public hearings in Portland, so now there will be two opportunities for community members to testify in public instead of one:

Wednesday Nov. 29, 2017, 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

PCC SE Campus, Community Hall, 2305 SE 82nd

Portland, OR 97216


Saturday Dec. 2, 2017, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd

Portland, OR 97232


There will be additional hearings throughout the state:  



Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, 5:30-8:00 PM

Walnut Community Room – 4950 NW Fair Oaks Drive


Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, 5:30-7:30 PM

Pendleton Library – 502 SW Dorion Avenue


The following organizations are advocating for healthy air in our communities, and are able to offer additional resources to community members who want to be engaged in the fight to clean up our air:


Neighbors for Clean Air

Tori Cole, Project Manager

(803) 250-9604


Green Lents

Adam Brunelle, Program Coordinator

(971) 336-1777


OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon

María Hernández Segoviano, Advocacy Coordinator

(503) 774-4503


Eastside Portland Air Coalition

Jessica Applegate



Cully Air Action Team

Gregory Sotir

(310) 467-8053


Beyond Toxics

Lisa Arkin

(541) 465-8860


Robert Collin

Member of the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force

Grabbing the tiger by the tail

The Willamette Week beat us to the announcement that Nicholas Caleb, who has been the staff attorney at Neighbors for Clean Air since last March, will be leaving.  In fact, today is his last day.

The board and other staff members are very grateful to Nick for his work this past year.  He stepped into the organization at a time when literally the best we could do was say grab a piece of the tail and hang on.  I knew it would take a special kind of person to walk in to a leadership role at this tiny organization, a month after the US Forest Service moss study revealed wide-spread industrial metals contamination. Personally, Nick became a great friend and confident through tumultuous and not always friendly waters.  I appreciated his calm and his maturity.  We wish him the best, not the least for the reason that whatever work Nick takes on, I know it will be dedicated to a higher public good.

But Nick’s leaving also signals a bigger transition and growth for our organization.  Having a full time staff attorney was the strategic plan we wrote when we opened our doors back in 2010, and when dealing with the issue of toxic air pollution was more the work of an expert who could dive into arcane permits and corners of air emissions regulations.  Over the course of the next few months, NCA will be finalizing a new staffing plan, with more resources dedicated to communications and community organizing, designed to meet the current needs of communities in Oregon to address toxic air.

One huge shift in our work plan for this year is the Meyer Memorial Trust funded Breathe Oregon project, a collaboration with Portland State University and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.  We are thrilled to announce that Tori Cole will be joining NCA in mid-April to be NCA’s Breathe Oregon Project Manager.  Tori has a JD from Lewis and Clark Law School, gaining specific experience in air regulations as a volunteer for the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. For the last few years, she has been a community organizer for SEIU Local 503. Tori’s legal background, strong Spanish language skills, and community organizing experience make her an incredible fit to lead NCA’s multi-faceted Breathe Oregon effort to deepen and strengthen community engagement through informed advocacy.

Air regulations still require unique expertise, and NCA is committed to retaining that.  But we also acknowledge that community engagement and education need to be significantly strengthened if we are to see real progress towards our goal of realizing clean air all the time for everyone.  In order to be successful, NCA will need to be an organization that reflects the diversity of Oregon communities.   NCA is grateful to Meyer Memorial Trust who is supporting this critical Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work through a grant to assist NCA’s board, staff and volunteers in our growth as an organization.

Look for more information in the coming months. In the meantime, please join us in wishing Nicholas Caleb all the best as he embarks on the next steps of his journey.  And please help us give Tori Cole a warm welcome to the NCA family.  You can reach her at


Workshop: Putting Environmental Justice in the Fight for Clean Air

Photo of MVD workshop attendees

Holly Wilson/EPA; Cheryl Grabben/ODEQ; Dan Brown/EPA; Marylou Soscia/EPA; John Wasiutynski/Mult Co; Mary Peveto/NCA; Sheryl Stohs/EPA; Donna Silverberg/DS Consulting; Nicholas Caleb/NCA; Shalini Gupta/Center for Earth, Energy & Democracy; Kristie Ellickson/ Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Akash Singh/NCA

On March 15, 2017 Neighbors for Clean Air partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to host a day-long workshop helping clean air partners  — community members, non-profit groups, and government agencies — work together to prioritize environmental justice in our clean air work, with a special focus on including the voices of those whose health is most directly and historically affected by dirty air.

You’ll find a Workshop Agenda here and we invite you to peruse some of the presentations from the day; we were honored with some very impressive thinkers on the topic!

In the near future we’ll be adding the US EPA’s report from the day, a “how to” document to guide clean air advocates, educators, administrators, and researchers as they work towards healthier air in Oregon. This report will serve as a supplement DEQ/OHA cleaner air Oregon technical workgroup report.

We will update this page as new information related to the workshop becomes available, so please check back!

In the meantime, you can see video’s from the days presentations, here:

GOOD NEWS: Community Groups Win Court Deadlines For Stronger Air Toxics Protections

On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) must finally address the need for stronger air toxics protections across the country.  Judge Tanya S. Chutkan found that EPA’s delay of many years to issue these rules violated the law and set prompt deadlines for action.  This decision marks a victory for the 9 community-based environmental and public health groups that filed suit to force EPA to fulfill its long-neglected duty to update air toxics standards to safeguard the public.

Exposure to hazardous air pollutants emitted by industries covered by this lawsuit can cause serious human health effects, including reproductive disorders and cancer.  Many major sources of industrial air pollution are located in areas where people are already overburdened with environmental contamination.

To protect people’s safety, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to perform reviews of the health and environmental hazards people near major industrial sources face from toxic air pollution and the pollution control developments available. As a result of these rulemakings, EPA must strengthen air standards as required to provide an ample margin of safety to protect public health and make sure no local communities are left behind as pollution reduction methods advance in some parts of the United States.  EPA is years overdue in fulfilling its legal duties to protect people from the 20 industrial sources of toxic air pollution covered by this lawsuit, including chemical companies, metals and plastics operations, and municipal landfills.

California Communities Against Toxics, Californians Against Waste Foundation, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Del Amo Action Committee, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Neighbors for Clean Air, and Ohio Citizen Action filed this suit in April 2015 against EPA for missing legally required deadlines to protect public health from toxic air pollution. The national environmental law organization Earthjustice represents them.

Now EPA must perform the mandatory Clean Air Act rulemakings on the schedule ordered by the court and update and strengthen the existing emission standards as necessary.

Nick Morales, Lead Attorney at Earthjustice is pleased to have these deadlines in place:

For years, EPA refused to do its job while each day people across the country were forced to breathe hazardous air pollution from industrial operations. Now that the Court has ordered hard deadlines for action, we look forward to urging EPA to strengthen the outdated toxic air pollution limits and require monitoring to reduce the toxic air communities are breathing.