By editorial board • 

Environmental agencies prove incompetent around the nation

A couplet on current environmental hazards in America would fit nicely into Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” We wonder how many toxins must be released into our neighborhoods before our environmental protection agencies start doing their job.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is under fire for inadequacies in dealing with high concentrations of heavy metals in Portland. If the results weren’t so tragic, it would be fun to joke about how it took the U.S. Forest Service to detect environmental hazards created by stained glass manufacturers in the state’s most urbanized locale.

The lumbering DEQ needed five months just to set up monitors, and it failed to clue in the public even at that point. Such a level of negligence occurs too often in cases of public health risk, both minor and major.

Portland’s mess doesn’t rise to the level of the introduction of toxic lead into the water of Flint, Michigan, or the massive, months-long leakage of flammable methane into the air of Porter Ranch, California. But there are similarities.

First, there’s the failure of regulatory agencies to monitor areas subject to potential contamination on such a grand scale. Unfortunately, that’s what you get when you have a watchdog dependent on funding from those it’s supposed to be watching.

How would the public react if this newspaper derived 75 percent of its revenue from units of local government — units it promised to cover solely with an eye to the best interests of the public? 

Of course industry should be at the table. Economic factors certainly need to be balanced against environmental considerations. But the way things work today, cutting a few corners to make the extra short-term buck takes precedence over protecting public health.

The DEQ was shockingly derelict in its response to the discovery of heavy metal emissions in Portland. It eventually sounded an alarm, but not until letting the problem fester unaddressed for much, much too long.

Where is the DEQ’s culture of urgency? Where is its commitment to take swift, decisive action to protect the public? The same could be asked of its counterparts in Michigan, California and other states where benign neglect seems to rule. 

It’s fine for environmental agencies to work in harmony with the industries they regulate, as long as the industry side isn’t calling the shots. When that happens, we’re reduced to hoping the disasters certain to strike periodically manage somehow to miss our neighborhood. 

Comments

Don Dix

"Where is the DEQ’s culture of urgency? Where is its commitment to take swift, decisive action to protect the public?"

Is it even possible to find a government regulatory agency that actually does it's respective task with urgency or commitment to protect the public from whatever? Mistakes and bad decisions go along with leadership ignorance and a troubling, lackadaisical attitude, which usually results in 'a promotion' to another position for those culpable. The idea of responsibility is completely foreign to most of these agencies, which, in turn, puts the public in jeopardy. Thank you very little!

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