For Oregon's polluters: tough rules, but lax enforcement

Images2From this morning's Steve Duin column in the Oregonian:

The Willamette River, as we all know, is an open sewer.

Howard Grabhorn can't be bothered to inspect the incoming trash at Lakeside Reclamation Landfill for pollutants, and Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality apparently doesn't care.

The state agency's approach to monitoring and enforcement is so cavalier -- mercury and carbon dioxide emissions at Portland General Electric's coal-powered plant, anyone? -- that the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, with two full-time employees and scores of student volunteers, annually collects more in fines from water polluters than the DEQ. ...

Green? Us? Please. Smug? Definitely. But as for Oregon's reputation as an environmental pacesetter? Way overrated.

Is it the rules - or the enforcement of the rules?

For many environmentalists, the DEQ -- and the tin sheriffs advising it at the Department of Justice -- are the heart of the problem. The agency is disorganized, dispirited, underfunded and under the illusion its real customers are the regulated industries, not the citizens of Oregon.

Art Kamp, who lives in the shadow of Grabhorn's money pit, argues the rules aren't the problem: "What I see in this state are strong environmental regulations and land-use rules that are often ignored."

As a former E.P.A. attorney involved with the Love Canal prosecution, Steve Novick offers a historic perspective:

Steve Novick agrees: "When I was involved with environmental enforcement (at the EPA) in the early '90s, the general impression was DEQ took environmental enforcement much less seriously than the Washington Department of Ecology. Oregon was in love with the idea of businesses auditing themselves, then revealing they were breaking the law and not being penalized for it."

And far too few Oregonians complained. "For 30 years, we've rested on our laurels," Novick said. "We did the Bottle Bill, so we're green."


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    By the way, folks, I was mildly misquoted in that column. I said "for 30 years, WE rested on our laurels" -- not "we've." That makes a difference, because "we've" sounds like the laurel-resting is still going on, while in fact I told Steve that in the past 3 years the Governor and the Legisature have done good green work. My '30 years' was essentially from '74 to '04. Also, I was at DOJ, not EPA -- we worked with EPA, but that was not where I was.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)

    It was Novick's success as lead litigator in the Love Canal case that first interested me... enough to spend 2 1/2 hours one-way on Tri-Met to hear him address the WashCo Dems. With a senator like Novick (and i'd be pleased with anyone like him), we would finally have someone with the tenacity to take on the big fights. We wouldn't have a "Justice" Department (where Novick spent the better part of his 20's) so rife with corruption with still no accountability. Letting Gonzo out the back door is not justice done.

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    I'm 51 years old and I have met a lot of people. But I've never met anyone remotely like Steve Novick.

    I'm just sayin'.

  • dennisdeveny (unverified)

    My friends who work for DEQ tell me that they really, really want to do better, but that it takes a bucket of cold water in the face of their superiors in order to do anything actually productive.

    Buckets of cold water in the form of lawsuits work best, they whisper.

  • zilfondel (unverified)
    <h2>So does replacing the managers and funding the inspections.</h2>
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