Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee Comments, August 29-30, 2017, Portland OR.
What happens when the economic benefits of pollution determine its regulation? Carol van Strum, a great Oregon resident, asked that question 30 years ago regarding a dangerous wood treatment chemical called Penta. The recent scandal involving Bullseye Glass’s metal contamination of a large swath of SE Portland opened the question up to public debate again, and led, in part, to these CAO regulatory planning sessions. The local community rose up, once again, outraged at Bullseye, and the DEQ, who had failed to protect public health.
The problem is, cost-benefit considerations, like acceptable risk, contain fatal flaws.
Prioritizing profit above community health, allowing paid corporate lobbyists to interfere with local decision-making, and gaming the system with regulatory loopholes, such as self-monitoring, confuse and diminish the regulatory protections which we all require for health and well-being.
The effects are not just nuisance odors which require us to close our windows and stay inside, but these toxins also endanger local wildlife, sabotage cottage industries such as eco-tourism and organic small scale farms, and create chronic neurological health conditions which burden public schools with autism, ADHD, asthma, and other health issues.
These toxic legacies are what CAO originally was designed to eliminate.
I think at this juncture of America culture and reality, we all recognize that racist and classist zoning laws, and institutional corruption, have created an Oregon where marginalized populations have borne the brunt of the effects of carcinogens, mutagens, and toxic irritants.
Marginalized populations have had little awareness of these poisons, virtually no redress, or even a chance to escape the local toxicity. Again, the echoes of Van Strum’s question sound: What happens when the economic benefits of pollution determine its regulation?
Unfortunately, over the past seven months I have watched as these CAO public input sessions have been undercut and pushed down the same old dead-end pathways. I have listened as the lobbyists pled inevitable economic calamities. It seems rather ironic then, that we all getting a kicker from Oregon taxes back next year.
While the latest proposed CAO draft contains many essential modifications to the existing permitting and regulatory structure, increasing cancer fatalities from polluting sources is one that is just not acceptable. Such a proposal has no structural integrity for the future, or for improving community health. There is no reason to give cancer a boost. I believe the public has been quite clear in opposition to elevating cancer deaths from new, or existing, industrial pollution sources.
In Sections 34-245-0080 and 34-245-0230, regarding Conditional Risk Level, often solid regulatory language is followed by loopholes allowing polluters to escape responsible pollution management practices. Section 34-245-0080 page 27 states: “(A) Risk Assessment. The owner or operator must _attempt to_ demonstrate that the source complies with the applicable Source Risk Action Level” I propose striking the words ‘attempt to’. The state must insure TBACT is being used fully and without reservation. I would also propose that ‘Conditional Risk’ permits are issued in a finite amount, say five permits around the state, reflecting the abstractions used in Acceptable Risk formulations for cancer deaths per x number of inhabitants. Once that total permit number is met, new permits must not be issued, or renewed, until one of the ‘conditional risk’ polluters returns to the regulatory fold in which all other companies must reside.
The 270 and 300 day reporting period also seems to me to be far too long. Unless I am misunderstanding 340-245-0050 (c)(8) on page 21 which states the polluter has almost a year to submit a Risk Assessment while they still are emitting poisons, I cannot understand the lack of diligence on the states part to protect the community health with this long and dirty time reporting period.
If the polluter is applying for one of these extraordinary ‘Conditional Risk’ permits, a more imminent relief to the dangers to public health is due. These limitations seem fair to me, and recognize that regulations are not subject to mere economics but must also include community health.
In Section 34-245-0230, page 48 (B)(c)(A), it should be incumbent on the industry to protect the health of the local population rather than have poison release determined by a monetary inability to control release. I cannot burn old tires in my yard because hauling them off to sanctioned dumpsite/recycler is too expensive. And the double whammy of health impacted by future liabilities is quite glaring here. As has often happened with toxic orphan sites, pollution remediation and health costs extrapolate wildly in future projections, with the public taxpayer forced to shoulder undue burdens of tax-funded relief efforts as well as those prior health maladies.
Further along, on page 49 the draft states: “(B) DEQ may consult with OHA, local elected officials, local Indian governing bodies, and state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction in the area of impact, before making a final determination regarding the postponement.” I would propose changing ‘may’ in Sentence One to ‘must’ to insure proper democratic representation of the local community regarding the issuing of any extra ordinary pollution permit allowances.
Section 340-245-0240 defines Source Ambient Monitoring Requirements. The agency should be applauded for inserting strong language and recognizing the local community’s needs and realities. However, the continued procedure of unregulated self-reported monitoring by individual polluting industries needs to be codified to insure compliance with verifiable data results. While DEQ may continue to practice unannounced visits to sites, as long as it has the means to, the sense that monitoring data will be conducted by the polluting industry as they see fit, often with coordination from out-of-state right wing think tanks and others, and whose submittal of data will likely not be challenged by DEQ or anyone else, calls into question the whole nature of permitting and enforcement by the state.
In many other industries, from medicine to education to public safety, to even driving an automobile, rigorous, objective, and verifiable testing and licensing is the norm. DEQ, perhaps in combination with OHA, should be the sole tester and verifier of data sets. Rather than the owner, or a lab he is told to hire by industry insiders, the agency must step in, test and verify, and enforce the laws. If nothing else this would insure equity on the part of the state as to how it deals with her people who seek licensure and industries who pollute and want to choose Oregon for their home.
for the Cully Air Action Team