Oregon locks in Obama-era environmental protections
(CN) – Oregon’s environmental protection laws will revert to the level of protection left in place by President Barack Obama, under a bill to be signed Friday by Gov. Kate Brown.
The Oregon Environmental Protection Act requires the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority to assess whether proposed changes to federal environmental regulations are “significantly less protective of public health, environment or natural resources” those in effect on Jan. 19, 2017 – the day before President Donald Trump took office.
If changes offer less environmental protection, the state agencies are required “to take actions under certain circumstances as necessary to retain protections.” Governors for four other states – California, Washington state, Colorado and Hawaii – have adopted similar rules or plan to do so.
Oregon’s law will affect state standards on air quality, drinking water and regulations under the Clean Water Act. The Trump administration has proposed rollbacks of the Clean Water Act that would weaken protections and leave wetlands more vulnerable to pollution from livestock farms, industry and urban stormwater runoff.
The federal government is defending in court its plan to weaken National Ambient Air Quality Standards. It has proposed the weakening of vehicle emissions standards and scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which could mean older, more polluting power plants will not need to make upgrades to reduce their pollution.
Even without weakened rules, ozone concentrations in Portland shot past federal standards in 2017. Ozone damages the lungs and can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and throat irritation, even at relatively low concentrations.
Particulate pollution levels have also risen across the state, with pollution from wood stoves exceeding national levels in rural areas. And wildfire smoke has caused heavy pollution in recent years. Residents of Medford, Oregon, breathed air rated “unhealthy” for 24 days this past summer.
While there are no rollbacks currently proposed for federal drinking water standards, the Oregon Health Authority can legally require standards that are stronger than or absent from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, according to testimony from André Ourso, state administrator for the Center for Health Protection before the state Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
Gov. Kate Brown called the law “an insurance policy for our children.”
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration has relentlessly attacked environmental safeguards that keep our communities healthy and vibrant,” Gov. Brown said in a statement. “As we sign the Oregon EPA into law, we send a signal to Washington, D.C. that rolling back federal environmental laws only creates uncertainty. By working together with other states, we can take a leadership role in preventing the erosion of core laws that protect our environment.”