MEDFORD, Ore. -- The Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Health Authority have proposed new air emission rules for businesses in Oregon. The rules would affect nearly 2,500 businesses in the state with air quality permits. Gov. Kate Brown asked the agencies to focus on eliminating air pollution from industrial emissions.
Robb Cowie, Oregon Health Authority Communications Director, said there are gaps in current federal regulations.
"There have been situations around the state where companies have been operating legally, but they are still admitting levels of heavy metal and pollutants that can pose a risk to public health," Cowie said.
The project, called "Cleaner Air Oregon," would review 80 facilities with the highest health risks within five years of the rules taking effect. Cowie said this would give air quality regulators time to implement the new rules and for other businesses to assess risks and make changes.
According to the "Cleaner Air Oregon" website:
A business that exceeds a RAL (Risk Action Level) must lower its health risks as much as possible. Some of those options include installing emission controls, using safer materials in place of hazardous ones, and adjusting the way they operate to reduce emissions. The rules would give businesses more time to lower their risk if they are in financial trouble.
Rick Thomas, Spokesperson for Oregonians For Fair Air Regulations, said these rules would be very costly for businesses, which could result in lost jobs.
"No other state has forced existing facilities to adhere to such requirements like what we're seeing here in these proposed regulations, so that's a real concern for a lot of folks," Thomas said.
Thomas said Oregon's air is cleaner today than it was 10 years ago thanks to changes businesses have already made, and 80 percent of the state's air pollution comes from cars and wood burning stoves.
Ellen Porter, Director of Environmental Affairs for Roseburg Forest Products, said the company is currently trying to figure out what these new rules will mean for it if they go into effect.
"The regulations are extremely stringent, and if we compare them to other states where we do business they are by far the most strict of any state," Porter said.
Porter said some facilities would most likely need to shut down if they could not make the necessary changes.
"If you can't make the thresholds then you know you may not have any other options than to close your doors," Porter said.
Cowie said the overall benefit of the regulations would be improved air quality and public health.
"If you're living in proximity to an industrial facility then chances are that facility is probably going to have a greater impact on your health than other sources of pollution," Cowie said.
Porter said the regulations will result in many lost jobs.
"There's very serious health affects when people lose their jobs," Porter said.
She said Roseburg Forest Products paid more than $50 million to keep up with the federal regulations already in place.
The DEQ is now hosting public forums for community members to make comments. Businesses have until Dec. 22 to submit comments, which the DEQ says health experts will respond to.