Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Portland's Climate Action Plan

Riding the 15 bus downtown with my girls last Saturday, a sign caught my eye as we turned the corner at SW Salmon.  It was a standard lawn sign, like those used for political campaigns, and it was stuck in the ground outside the Lincoln HS track fence.  It read: Climate Change Town Hall, June 29th 6.30pm Lincoln HS. I made a quick note to myself on my calendar.

And that's how I found myself in the Lincoln HS cafeteria last night listening to Sam Adams' vision of Portland in 2050, at the heart of which is the reduction of local carbon emissions by 80%.

The plan is ambitious and doable, when you consider the impact individuals have on our city's carbon footprint, which the city and county estimate to be 50% of all local carbon emissions due to residents driving, and the heating, cooling and powering of our homes.  Our track record is impressive in the 15 years the City and Multnomah County have been working together to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007, the carbon emissions were 1% below 1990 levels, despite the rapid population growth and economic expansion in the region. In the US as a whole, by contrast, emissions increased 17%. source: Multnomah County and City of Portland Climate Action Plan 2009 Draft We already recycle at rates far above the national average (64% of all Portland's waste is recycled-the nat'l rate hovers in the 30's); we are one of the bike friendliest towns in the country with nearly 300 miles of bike lanes and a bike commuter rate of 9% in some neighborhoods; and of course there is our near legendary network of streetcar and light rail public transportation. This is the Portland we all love and evoke fondly when we regal far-flung family and friends with the magical spot we call home. 

But, as I told the mayor in the few minutes after the meeting concluded, when we were both grabbing our bike helmets and heading out the door, the 800lb gorilla in the room (or more accurately NOT in the room) was the contribution of our industrial neighbors to this master plan.  I wondered aloud what changing my light bulbs and bringing my own bags to the supermarket would compare to the emissions emanating from the industrial smokestacks 1000ft from my front porch.  With yet another EPA report underscoring the high load of industrial pollution that Portlander's carry, with Multnomah County yet again ranking in the top 10 counties in the nation with increased risk of cancer due to industrial air pollution, I wondered where was industry in this Climate Action Plan conversation, or for that matter the DEQ?

And again the answers: City and County have no jurisdiction over industrial pollutants and the funding at the DEQ (the agency that DOES have direct jurisdication over industry in the state) has been slashed so much that they have no teeth.  What's a citizen to do?  I have a couple ideas for you :)

1) Let the City of Portland and Multnomah County know that you are concerned by the lack of attention and accountability regarding industrial specific emissions in the Climate Action Plan.  You can read the plan here. Send emails to climateactionplan@ci.portland.or.us.  You might also email Mayor Adams (Office_of_Mayor_Sam_Adams@mail.vresp.com) and Jeff Cogen, the Multnomah County Commissioner atop the Sustainability Program:  jeff.cogen@co.multnomah.or.us. While they say the county and city has no jurisdiction, they sure do have a strong record of innovation and results.  

2) Show up to the next Climate Action Town Hall and plan on attending the City Council hearings on the topic.  There is one more Town Hall Mtg in this 1st round: Tuesday, July 7th, 6.30pm University Park Community Center. Mayor Adams mentioned that it is important to show up to be heard (and seen) that this issue is a priority.  I strongly believe that our citizen support on this issue can also be parlayed into leverage on increasing pressure on our industrial neighbors to meet this challenge of innovation and nation-leading mitigation of industrial emissions that threaten our health and well-being.

3) And of course, change your light bulbs, bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, buy local, and ride your bike, walk and use public transportation instead of your car.  For a more thorough calculation of your personal carbon footprint and ideas of how to reduce it, click here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Green is Oregon?

Hello Friends,

The warm sunny weather makes it difficult to face reality sometimes. And it is a beautiful morning, and I will head out in a few minutes to enjoy the best our city has to offer with a run up on the Wildwood Trail.  

But, first, I am compelled to share some sobering facts, released yesterday by the EPA, regarding Oregon and air pollution.  We have once again risen near the top--of the dirtiest heap.  Blake Morrison reports in the USA Today this morning that: "The government's latest snapshot of air pollution across the nation shows residents of New York, Oregon and California faced the highest risk of developing cancer from breathing toxic chemicals."  You can see the official EPA report here

What good is this kind of information?  I believe strongly that it is the kick in the pants that the Governor's office and our state legislators and Washington representatives need to act specifically and deliberately to mitigate toxic hot spots where residents are at risk of increased exposure to harmful emissions.

As one EPA official notes: "Air toxic risks are local. They are a function of the sources nearest to you," said Dave Guinnup, who leads the groups that perform the risk assessments for toxic air pollutants at EPA. "If you are out in the Rocky Mountains, you are going to be closer to 2 in a million. If you are in an industrial area with a lot of traffic, you are going to be closer to 1100 in 1 million."

The missing component for Oregon has been a state agency that has the teeth to provide leadership and oversight on this issue.  The NWneighborhood has for years brought attention to, and documented, the existence of toxic emissions coming into the neighborhood from nearby industrial sources.  But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality continues to stand behind the "industry is less than 10% of the overall air pollution problem STATEWIDE." But as Guinnup noted, air pollution is local.  In our case, the majority of the population at risk in Oregon lives in Multnomah County. Oregon needs to adopt swift legislation that gives DEQ the authority to clean up toxic hot spots, and require the best available technology (a step beyond the current federally mandated MACT standard for Title V permitting) that effect high density residential neighborhoods. This needs to come with the authority to demand oversight and monitoring at industrial sites which pose a potential threat to residents, that currently are relying on self-reporting and company arranged monitoring to assess risk.

Please write to the Governor's Office.  Let Kulongoski know that this is a priority to residents and must be addressed if we are going to fulfill the mission to be the "greenest city in the world."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rep Earl Blumenauer's superfund bill

If you were outraged by Steve Duin's article about the landfill that the Oregon DEQ is attempting to shift the bill for clean up from the polluter to the Oregon tax payers, then you should applaud Rep. Blumenauer's sponsoring HR 564, which he calls the "Superfund Reinvestment Act."

The Superfund program went bankrupt in 2003 because polluter pays fees legislation lapsed in 1995.  Needless to say the Republican congress under Clinton and the Bush administration did not support reinstating the fees.  The good news is that President Barack Obama recommended restoring Superfund fees in his budget proposal.  Congress is also moving on the long overdue reinstatement with Blumenauer's bill.

Louis Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, says: "The time to act is now. The country cannot afford to continue bailing out polluters while the list of unfunded sites grows. Congress should restore the polluter pays fees and enable Superfund to move forward and respond to new toxic threats. The core principle of the Superfund program is that polluters, not taxpayers, should pay to clean up these deadly toxic waste sites."

With the Portland Harbor designated a Superfund site, and the fee showing up on our city water bill each month, I am sure you all appreciate my support of Blumenauer's bill.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Health Care Committee to Form Air Quality Workgroup

Hello Friends,

As I mentioned before, last week was a big week.  You are probably already aware, Representative Mitch Greenlick attended our Town Hall Meeting with DEQ in May.  He followed that up by meeting with Dick Pedersen, director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  It seems that Rep. Greenlick shares our concerns about industrial air pollution and the potential adverse health risks to us and our children. Rep. Greenlick, and three other state representatives:Tina Kotek (D-N/NE Portland), Michael Dembrow (D-NE Portland) and Ben Cannon (D-NE/SE Portland) made a very exciting announcement on Tuesday of last week, the formation of an Air Quality Workgroup within his Health Care Committee.  

It should be noted that the press release cites the "public outcry" from residents concerned about air quality.  Our voices are being heard, and it is important that we keep using them.  Thanks to everyone who has been willing to sign the petition, and send letters.  This is so important in getting the right people's attention on this issue; and I am convinced it will be the crucial component in seeing real change enacted regarding the mitigation of industrial pollution. Read on for the official press release, and please contact Tom Powers (Tom.Powers@state.or.us) if you want to participate in the Air Quality Workgroups.  It is very important that we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to this issue by participating fully in this important process.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     Contact: Tom Powers

June 16, 2009                                                                                         (503) 986-1433


Health Care Committee to Form

Air Quality Workgroup


SALEMOre.—Representative Mitch Greenlick (D-NW Portland) today announced the formation of a workgroup of the House Health Care Committee to study the health effects of Portland-area air quality.  Joining Rep. Greenlick, chair of the committee, on the workgroup are Representatives Tina Kotek (D-N/NE Portland), Michael Dembrow (D-NE Portland) and Ben Cannon (D-NE/SE Portland). 


Members of the Health Care Committee are wrapping up the 2009 Legislative Session this month and upon adjournment sine die, each will return home to work on important issues during the interim.  The Portland-area members of the committee decided to form an interim workgroup in response to outcry from residents who have grown uneasy about air conditions in northern Portland.


“I have received many calls and emails from constituents in northwest Portland who are concerned about the negative health effects of poor air quality in the area,” said Rep. Greenlick.  “The workgroup we are forming in the interim will gather comments and input from the public as well as findings from experts in these fields.”


A recent USA Today report concluded that multiple Portland schools rank in the top first or second percentile nationwide among schools with poor air quality.  “We need to change the reality that schools in my district rank first in the nation for being located in communities with very poor air quality,” said Rep. Kotek. “I am eager to work with my colleagues to find solutions as we look into this important issue.”


Representative Dembrow added that many constituents have been contacting his office about air quality in House District 45, which stretches from Irvington to Parkrose.  “Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about someone else from Portland who has developed a respiratory problem.  I look forward to getting to the bottom of this during the interim,” said Rep. Dembrow.


The air quality workgroup is slated to convene for several meetings in the late summer this year in Northwest and North Portlandneighborhoods.  Members of the public are encouraged to attend each meeting.  The committee will announce the setting of each meeting after the close this session.  For more information please please contact Sandy Thiele-Cirka at (503) 986-1286 or sandy.thielecirka@state.or.us.




Welcome to pdxair.

Dear Friends,

I have been looking for a medium to best share updates and more information regarding the neighborhood industrial air pollution issue with more people.  My network maxxes out when I send too many emails within 24 hours.  Let me know if reading a blog works for you.  I will send an email announcement when I update it with something significant or actionable.  

Last week was big.  Not just because my family spent 3 eye-opening days at the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, WA.  That is definitely another story.  More interesting was the flurry of discussion around another ODEQ issue that The Oregonian has been covering since 30 May in Steve Duin's column and online blog.  If you didn't see it, and in case you are still doubting if we have to worry about DEQ's oversight of our industrial neighbors, you might be interested in catching up:

That brings me to how the week started off with the much anticipated response from Cory Ann Wind of DEQ to our concerns voiced during the Town Hall Mtg on 21 May at Chapman.  I don't want to ruin it for you all, but there is not a lot of concrete action, except to ask for more meetings.  But please read the email sent on 15 June 09 for yourself. I would love to hear your thoughts: 

Hi Mary,


Sorry for the delayed response to your request.  Thank you for your email and invitation to the neighborhood meeting at Chapman Elementary. DEQ is committed to addressing your concerns and hope that with your help on both the ESCO permit renewal and Portland Air Toxics Solutions advisory committee, that we are able to identify and implement agreeable solutions to the problem.


1.      You suggested that we explore and mutually agree on permanent testing and monitoring of ESCO and all other sources of industrial emissions. While there are resource limitations, we are willing to explore the possibility of ambient monitoring for air toxics in Northwest Portland.  DEQ will also be analyzing the monitoring requirements in ESCO’s permit during the renewal of the permit (See Item #5) to determine whether the amount and type of monitoring required is appropriate. 


2.      You asked for a review of the Cooper Environmental Services fence-line monitoring data. We are committed to sharing the report and our review with the public.  DEQ is currently reviewing the Cooper report.  Our goal is to have the review completed by the end of June, however staffing limitations may require more time.


3.      You asked for a DEQ response regarding the feasibility of the requests made in the petition.  We are entering contact information from the petition signers into a spreadsheet to compile an interested persons mailing list.  When a formal response to the petition is developed, all persons on this mailing list will be notified.  The response to specific requests will take some time to develop and will be folded into the renewal process of the ESCO permit (See Item #5).  We are discussing the details of the petition amongst a variety of technical staff and policy analysts within DEQ.  Much more information needs to be compiled before DEQ can state its position with respect to specific requests.  Be assured that DEQ is committed to exploring all of the requests in the petition. 


In the meantime, to improve communication with the neighborhood, DEQ is developing a new website that will be a clearinghouse of information regarding air quality in Northwest Portland.  This web page will include ESCO-related public documents, progress on the ESCO permit renewal process, the Cooper report and review, a schedule of public meetings, monitoring and computer modeling information specific to NW Portland, progress of the Portland Air Toxics Solutions project, and any other information that is pertinent.  Our goal is to have this website live by the middle of July, and it will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.


DEQ plans to schedule public meetings on specific topics.  We have received survey responses (the green sheets handed out at the meeting) that show broad interest in the following topics:  Air Pollution 101, Air Permitting 101, Air Toxics 101, compliance and inspections, and odors and nuisance. We do not have a fixed schedule for these activities yet, but are looking forward to working with you on dates and locations for these meetings.


4.      You asked for a timeline for the drafting of the ESCO permit and public hearings.  The timeline for permit drafting is not set in stone; DEQ’s process for drafting a Title V permit can take several months. Drafting the renewal for ESCO, or any other facility, consists of a detailed technical review and assessment.  Some preliminary work has already begun to organize some of the broader issues within the permit, but the actual work of renewing the permit has not yet begun.  We will start this process in July, at which time the permit writer may develop a better estimate of how long his review will take and an anticipated timeline for a draft permit.  We will keep you apprised of our progress during this lengthy process.


5.      You noted that neighbors expected to participate in drafting the permit. While we plan to hold neighborhood meetings throughout this process to inform neighbors and get your feedback, DEQ alone is responsible for drafting the permit. We will consider all issues raised in public meetings and invite public comment on the permit once drafted.  We will modify the draft permit, as appropriate, based on the comments received during the formal public comment period.


Again, I thank you for your concerns regarding these issues.  I agree that the next step should be to set up a meeting with you and key DEQ staff.  Can you propose a few dates for the first half of July that we can use as a starting point?



Cory-Ann Wind

NWR AQ Manager


(503) 229-5567

Hope everyone's summer is off to a good start. 

Kind regards,