Wow, it was another action-packed news week here in Portland! Let’s summarize the highlights:
Beginning last Saturday, Don Francis led a Soil Sampling Training class in SE. A half-dozen neighbors showed up to listen to Don quite expertly describe the process of collecting a sample and preserving the trail of custody, e.g. not contaminating the sample inadvertently by say, dropping your hand to the wet soil to keep your balance as you kneel in the mud of your side-yard garden, then touching the soil sampling tool. I kept my hands on the camera and stayed out of the mud.
Sunday featured the weekly Eastside Portland Air Quality Coalition’s Operations Group meeting. Try to get this meeting squeezed into its 2-hour time slot! The format is simple: each group leader (Media, Legal, Actions, Legislative, Neighborhood Organizing, and Website) summarizes the events of the past week. During last Sunday’s session 2 items quickly rose to the top of the items for discussion:
- a Tuesday night neighborhood event at Lane Middle School, and
- the Monday – Tuesday Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) meetings.
Monday morning at 9am I sat in on my first EQC meeting. On the agenda, defining the process the EQC would take to replace outgoing DEQ Director Pedersen whose resignation took effect the next day. This was more urgent than anyone knew at the time, because in 2 days an enforcement agreement would require the signature of the new Director; see Wednesday’s summary below. Interim DEQ Director Joni Hammond was named as temporary executive. Two Commissioners will form a subcommittee to begin a recruitment and selection process for a permanent Director. Listen to the Commission’s decision here.[blockquote size=”full” align=”right” byline=”The Oregonian”]On Tuesday morning, the Department of Environmental Quality’s interim leader (Hammond) said the agency wouldn’t wait. Gov. Kate Brown was pushing the commission to act.[/blockquote] Tuesday back at the EQC at 2pm with a different agenda, the review of a temporary rule that would’ve imposed immediate restrictions on Bullseye Glass’s ability to send toxics (arsenic, cadmium and chromium) up the chimney without filtration.
Although the temporary rule, which would bind Bullseye for 180 days or until a permanent rule took effect, would’ve protected nearby residents, no one felt comfortable with the 23-hour notice of the rule.
After a 4-hour hearing that included 50 public comments, almost all asking for a delay, the Commission relented. The audience got what they asked for: a 14-day comment period where the public and Bullseye and their Perkins Coie attorneys can weigh in on the language of the temporary rule. But to everyone’s surprise, 14 days turned into 35 days as the EQC doesn’t meet again until April 20-21. DEQ staff, especially the new rulemaking executive Leah E. Koss, looked dejected as the Commission decided to delay. In the meantime, local residents have no protections, only Bullseye’s voluntary agreement to suspend use of the cancer causing chemicals. The Oregonian summarizes, “Toxic air: Facing outcry, state waits on emergency restrictions“.
Wednesday The Oregonian reported, “Uroboros Glass agrees to control pollution.” DEQ Enforcement showed an alternative to EQC rulemaking with this binding agreement; signed by the new DEQ Director Hammond.[blockquote size=”full” align=”right” byline=”The Oregonian”]Uroboros Glass, a North Portland manufacturer, signed an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Quality this week that requires pollution controls and a halt in its use of arsenic, chromium and cadmium.[/blockquote]
Thursday is now the day of the week that DEQ announces air quality sampling results. The Oregonian summed it up, Pollution ‘dramatically lower’ in SE Portland after Bullseye Glass drops metals.[blockquote size=”full” align=”right” byline=”The Oregonian”]The air wasn’t completely clean. Four air monitors deployed around Bullseye in February found isolated spikes of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.[/blockquote]
Thursday evening Neighbors For Clean Air‘s Mary Peveto kicked off a well attended fundraiser at a supporter’s lovely penthouse apartment in the Pearl. Not a word about dress code and since it was early evening on St Patricks’ Day I show up in an appropriately green t-shirt with bicycle insignia all over it – no one else seemed to observe the holiday, instead appearing in suits and ties. To assuage my costume malfunction I added an extra zero to my donation. The next day I heard the raise exceeded $7,500. You can make your donation here.
Friday March 18th, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury presents her State of the County at the City Club of Portland.
Meanwhile Precision Castparts (PCC), the biggest polluter in the country, sat down with the DEQ. Community activists hoped to join in the meeting, but PCC firmly declined, according to Precision Castparts, DEQ meet behind closed doors.
Saturday March 19th: The Oregonian reports that the EPA orders nationwide review of art glass makers in wake of Portland air pollution scare. Bullseye’s gift to the rest of the country, this increased scrutiny will likely find other glass manufacturers sending carcinogens up the chimney to poison unsuspecting nearby residents.
My take: Even when the DEQ is acting in our best interests, no one trusts them. Political officials at all levels pleaded with the EQC to slow the rulemaking process down. Seldom in clean air advocacy have I witnessed advocates and the polluter both pleading for more time.
At the end of the day it seemed clear, the biggest beneficiary of the month-long delay would be Bullseye Glass. After the hearing Bullseye’s Perkins Coie attorney was mansplaining like he owned the room, the smile on his face went ear to ear. He had earned his fee – he kicked this can way down the road and had the advocates thinking it was their idea.
We’ll see how Bullseye uses this extra month to their advantage. At the very least, I’m guessing they will deluge Rulemaker Koss with commentary in support of the “wonderful work they do for glass artists”, while challenging every paragraph. This avalanche will hit DEQ staff such that they will be hard pressed to turn around a coherent revision by April 20th.
Clean air advocates can’t win the contests that lie ahead without the support of the DEQ. We must support Rulemaker Koss; we want her picture on the cover of Time Magazine, or at least the front page of the New York Times. Likewise, Interim Director Hammond – when she laments that she wishes she could communicate better with us, we should listen and begin to trust.
The next time we have an opportunity to lobby for a temporary rule we must jump on it, even if it’s not perfect, because a flawed temporary rule is better than no rule and a temporary rule puts us at greater advantage, a stronger bargaining position, as we seek to curtail polluters.