The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is in search of a new way to pay for Gov. Kate Brown's clean air initiative, after lawmakers did not pass its primary funding mechanism.
Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon initiative aims to create more stringent air toxics regulations based on what’s safe for human health. Those would be similar to what states like California and Washington already have.
House Bill 2269 would have funded that work by increasing the permit fees paid by polluters. Lawmakers abandoned the idea after opposition from industry groups.
"Oregonians across the state expect clean air,” Brown said in a statement. “My office continues to pursue resources to sustain this important work, and the agencies spearheading the initiative will be able to move forward, crafting rules critical to better protect public health.”
Work to establish new rules under Cleaner Air Oregon will continue, DEQ spokeswoman Jennifer Flynt said. The agency is exploring how to make room in the existing budget.
DEQ and the governor’s office are hoping for general fund money as a short-term fix.
But advocates for the program say fees on pollution sources, like industrial emissions, are needed to expand air quality protections in the long term. Those fees likely will mean more fights between advocates for air and for industry in future legislative sessions.
“It’s a stunning defeat and a stunning signal of industry’s power over this program,” said Mary Peveto, a lobbyist for clean air regulations. “My first concern is about how this affects the continuing development of the program if industry is able to continually have this retribution power through the budget process, through the Legislature.”
A spokesman for Associated Oregon Industries declined comment.
In previous written testimony on the bill, the association said, “Unless and until DEQ describes in detail how this program will work and why it will not compromise our important manufacturing base and communities that rely on these employers, we respectfully request that you Oppose HB 2269 until the fee increases to stand up this damaging program are removed from the bill.”