Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Restoring Public Trust in DEQ

Long-time DEQ Director Dick Pedersen has resigned, leaving even bigger questions about the environmental agency’s future amid a controversy over its sluggish response to excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium and chromium in Portland neighborhoods.

Long-time DEQ Director Dick Pedersen has resigned, leaving even bigger questions about the environmental agency’s future amid a controversy over its sluggish response to excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium and chromium in Portland neighborhoods.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is in trouble. The agency was slow to identify and respond to warnings of high concentrations of arsenic, cadmium and chromium in Portland neighborhoods. Its respected director has resigned. Knowledgeable observers say DEQ has a shortage of scientific and technical personnel and may face difficulty recruiting the talent it needs.

That would be a lot to handle any time, but it’s an especially heavy load in an election year when Oregonians vote on a new governor. Chances are good DEQ will take its licks on the campaign stump as candidates try to make hay out of the agency’s shortcomings.

In recent times, DEQ has operated below the public and political radar. Some critics say that’s because DEQ has been timid in pushing environmental goals and willing to bend to compromise with industry.

While current concerns center on DEQ’s role in maintaining air quality, the agency also is in charge of water quality, waste management, hazardous material use reduction, vehicle exhaust inspections, spill clean-up and sustainability. DEQ is involved in issues as far-ranging as odor suppression and evaluating the environmental impact of coal exports. It also is engaged in the climate change conversation.

The immediate controversy has angered neighborhoods, school officials and candidates for offices in Portland and Multnomah County. The loss of Dick Pedersen, who has been as DEQ since 1996, raises questions about the future leadership of the agency. Before long, questions may arise about DEQ’s performance and competency in other ares of its responsibility.

Given all this uncertainty, what steps would you recommend DEQ take to regain public confidence? Governor Brown and the Environmental Quality Commission will select a replacement for Pedersen. What actions would you advise the new DEQ director to take to rebuild trust and the agency’s credibility?

Share your ideas and recommendations with us at garyc@cfmpdx.com. We will report on what you share with us, plus an idea or two of our own, in the Oregon Insider blog next week. If you prefer to share your ideas without attribution, we will honor that request.

Please send us your best thoughts by next Wednesday (March 9). We look forward to your comments on what DEQ and its new director should do.

DEQ’s Vision Quest on the Mountain

Recycling has been an important part of Oregon DEQ’s vocabulary, but a new term — materials management — is about to get top billing in the war against waste.State waste management planners went to a resort on Mount Bachelor in Central Oregon last week on a vision quest. They were on a mission to test out concepts for new approaches to prevent Oregon from becoming buried in garbage even more than it is now.

Mount Bachelor was a fitting location. Several hundred members of the Association of Oregon Recyclers (AOR) were engaged in a conference on sustainability. And you almost — if the mind's’ eye were powerful enough — could see several huge regional landfills in Eastern Oregon and southcentral Washington filling up with garbage trucked, trained and towed through the Columbia Gorge from distant places such as Portland and Seattle. 

AOR’s 34th annual conference drew the leadership of waste regulators and recycling educators from local governments, commercial waste haulers, recycling center operators, recyclable commodity brokers and others. Many of these happy warriors of the waste world have long viewed “waste minimization” and the need for a consumer culture shift in thinking as the right way to tackle the problem.