Oregon’s air permitting regulations are past due for a major overhaul. Under the current rules, many industrial facilities are issued permits with emission limits that are well above what the facility is physically capable of emitting. As a result, these facilities can often expand operations—and significantly increase emissions—without modifying their permit, without meaningful review by DEQ, and without informing impacted communities. What’s more, Oregon’s rules were established before the current federal air quality standards, and do not reflect modern science on what levels of pollution exposure are harmful. Recent modeling of Portland facilities, conducted by Earthjustice and DEQ, demonstrated that under the current rules many sources in Oregon can cause violations of federal air quality standards—without ever exceeding their permit limits.

Because of these and other outdated provisions, Oregon’s permitting framework is notoriously industry-friendly. And these benefits for industrial polluters come at the expense of local communities, who are subject to dangerous levels of pollution and increased health risks, and are unable to meaningfully participate in the permitting process. These impacts are felt most acutely in environmental justice communities, which are exposed to disproportionately high levels of pollution due to their proximity to industrial facilities.

This year, NEDC helped lead a coalition of community organizations in pushing for significant updates to these antiquated rules. As part of a statewide Advisory Committee appointed to update the regulations, NEDC helped develop a new draft framework that eliminates unnecessarily high permit limits, provides additional opportunities for public review of facility modifications, and ensures that Oregon permits account for new air quality standards and the latest science.

This campaign to modernize Oregon’s permitting system is not over yet. Somewhat predictably, Oregon industries are pushing back on these long-overdue changes. In 2023, NEDC and our partners will be advocating forcefully to make these important updates a reality, and to ensure Oregon’s air—and local communities’ health—is adequately protected.