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There needs to be consequence for DEQ’s lack of accountability

Welcome to Oregon! Pollute to your company’s content; no one will notice.

Sounds like fiction given Oregonians’ passion for clean air, water and land.

But it might as well be the slogan of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

When audited recently, it was determined that 43 percent of the state’s largest air polluters are operating with expired permits. Some of them for as many as five years.

The agency also told auditors it was behind on inspecting air polluters, and that it couldn’t quantify the problem because it has no system for tracking inspection due dates.

This is not just an economic problem, where uncertainty and delays prompt companies to locate elsewhere. This lack of inspections and outdated permits threatens the state’s air quality, and puts asthma sufferers, residents with chronic bronchial or pulmonary conditions, and others at a health risk. And the risk is intensified when smoke from wildfires clouds our skies as happened last summer.

We understand that the department’s budget and staffing have declined in the past decade. Few haven’t. But no system for tracking inspection due dates? That is unconscionable.

Compared with other states of similar size, the audit found the DEQ does a poor job of training and supporting permit writers.

So we’re skeptical about the promises DEQ is now making.

The DEQ’s director, Richard Whitman, said the agency has been making strides to eliminate the backlog. He said the DEQ will hire agency leads for its water, air and land-quality programs, and develop annual permitting and inspections plans.

But why did it take a light being shined on the problem to get these assurances?

Why is it that we continue to hear about state agencies waiting until they’re found not doing the job they are charged with to make changes and promises?

It’s disturbing to learn that the DEQ has known it’s been falling down on the job in policing known polluters. It’s time to change the system.

Oregonians pride themselves on living in a state that protects its air, water and land.

It’s time for the governor to deliver on her commitment to transparency. Regulations are useless if no one follows them. We’ve opined about the governor ordering reforms of child-welfare practices, ethics policies, public records requests … the list goes on and on.

True transparency starts with her agency directors.

Source: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/editorials/2018/01/07/there-needs-consequence-deqs-lack-accountability/1008280001/

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