Last week Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a bill that assesses a fee on industry to fund a program designed to reveal health risks posed by emissions from specific factories.
Brown proposed Cleaner Air Oregon in Senate Bill 1541 as a response to the discovery of toxic metals in Portland's air in 2016.
"Now communities will know what they're being exposed to and what risks are posed," said state Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) during a speech asking lawmakers to pass the bill March 3.
The initial legislation would have strengthened state regulators' authority to require industry to reduce air pollution. But in the interest of getting enough votes to enact the new fee and to give industry more predictable expectations on allowable emissions, the bill's proponents said they had to agree to limit the state's authority to respond to pollution.
The bill authorizes the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt rules to discover and, on a limited basis, address the public health risks from emissions of toxic air contaminants from individual industrial sources and to establish a schedule of fees to cover the cost of the program. The bill also calls for the commission to develop a pilot program to assess the potential cumulative health effects from emissions from multiple sources.
Many lawmakers, including House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) expressed mixed emotions about the ultimate product. While Kotek voted for the bill, she later wrote that the compromise "undermined an 18-month public process that brought together stakeholders from all sides of the issue" to address the air toxics problem and propose the original legislation.
Kotek said the program would still make Oregon a leader in air quality programs nationwide.
"Since the program addresses both new and existing facilities, it provides stronger protections than many air toxics programs across the country," she said.
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