Although air quality problems have plagued Oregon over the past year, with heavy metals and odorous toxic gas concerns emerging across Portland and the state, the EPA has little to do with regulating those issues.
“This is one of those areas where the federal law doesn’t really address the problem created by localized effects on its immediate neighbors,” Whitman said. “We’re using state law to do that.”
Gov. Kate Brown last year launched the Cleaner Air Oregon initiative, in response to heavy metal pollution from glass factories in Portland neighborhoods. That initiative is moving its way through state legislature and could change how Oregon cracks down on relatively small polluters who spew toxics into areas where people live. It could also change how Oregon views polluters – instead of just looking at one factory, the DEQ could consider how a group of factories together impact air quality.
Although the proposed EPA budget cuts funding to the DEQ, Alexandra Dunn from the national nonprofit Environmental Council of the States says all is not lost.
On average, the federal government contributes about 27 percent to a U.S. state’s environmental budget. Another 12 percent comes from the state general fund, and the rest is made up through fees, like air quality permits.
Oregon actually contributes less than the average, according to an ECOS report. Of the state’s approximately $168,100,000 budget for environmental programs, just nine percent comes from the general fund. Forty-four percent comes from fees. The biggest chunk – 47 percent – comes from the federal government.
“I think it’s important to know that state government is resilient and budget cuts are a part of government,” Dunn said. “I do think that states will work very hard to ensure that public health is protected and they are remaining transparent and responsive to people.”
Dunn said states could contribute more to addressing environmental concerns by increasing fees or dedicate more general funds to the environment.
With a $1.6 billion budget deficit facing the state, Oregon may not have the extra money to devote to the DEQ. And Whitman says the EPA budget cuts may be just the beginning of a much larger shift.
“It’s important to look at policy changes the White House is announcing. Not moving forward with the clean power plan. They are backing away from a change in the ozone standard for our air. They are backing away from the rules to protect water quality. It’s an overall picture of backing way not just from what they might think of as fringe environmental programs, It’s backing away from core environmental protections that are important to Oregonians and folks in the U.S.,” Whitman said. “This is the leading edge of a potentially very major change in how the federal government plays with the states in protecting our environment.”
Published April 21, 2017
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