More than a dozen organizations are calling on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to stop renewing air pollution permits until a new set of rules are in place.
The state is in the process of setting new limits on air pollution to protect human health after testing revealed numerous toxic hot spots around Portland – including unhealthy levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead near the Bullseye Glass facility.
In a letter sent Tuesday, advocates called on DEQ officials not to renew any existing air pollution permits while the state is writing the new rules.
Mary Peveto, director of the group Neighbors for Clean Air, said the agency can have hundreds of air permit renewals to process at any given time. As the new rules take shape, she said, companies may have an incentive to rush the renewal of their existing permits, which could delay the need to comply with the new rules for up to 10 years.
“This whole process is an acknowledgment of the complete failure in our permitting system to protect public health,” Peveto said. “It makes no sense to continue to renew permits under regulations that are clearly so flawed and insufficient to protect public health.”
DEQ has already postponed the renewal of an air pollution permit for Precision Castparts, a metal parts manufacturer linked to elevated levels of nickel in the air.
“We think it’s a really common sense for every industrial emitter of hazardous air pollutants to be put on hold for the renewal so the renewals will ensure we get to health-based standards,” Peveto said.
DEQ did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Peveto said she has received acknowledgement from DEQ interim director Pete Shepherd that the agency is considering the call for a moratorium on all air pollution permit renewals.
On Wednesday, the agency launched the first of four meetings of the technical work group that will advise the new rule-making process.