I'm pleased to see that Oregonian columnist Steve Duin is still firing bulls eyes at an admittedly easy target: how the Oregon DEQ looks the other way when well-heeled permit violators run afoul of environmental rules.
In his "Permitting and protecting the polluters," Duin describes a situation that's distressingly similar to what happened in our neighborhood when a Measure 37 subdivision said "rules, what rules?" and the Department of Environmental Quality meekly replied "whatever…we don't care."
Back in November Duin wrote a column about my frustrating fight to get DEQ to do the right thing, "At DEQ, the refs swallow their whistles."
You'd think that by now either the agency would be tired of choking on its failure to protect Oregon, or someone else (governor, legislature) would be forcing DEQ to stop looking the other way when big business ignores environmental regulations.
But no, even though contaminated water from a landfill is flowing into the Tualatin River, DEQ's solution is to request that the polluter pay $795 for a permit. Case closed.
This would be disgusting, but not surprising, in New Jersey. I know, because I've watched every season of The Sopranos. In supposedly squeaky clean and green Oregon, though, it's disconcerting when a state agency bends over backwards for the companies it's supposed to be regulating.
In my fight against a DEQ scofflaw, the agency finally did revoke a 1200-C erosion/storm water control permit. However, the only penalty for the applicant was waiting a while to get another permit.
I'd sent DEQ evidence that the applicant, a Measure 37 claimant seeking to build a subdivision, had violated the permit requirements and presented false information on the permit application.
DEQ's own administrative rules say that these are "no-no's." But with DEQ, almost everything a permit violator does is a "yes-yes." As in, yes, you broke the rules, and yes, we'll let you off the hook for doing so.
This reminds me of a policeman catching someone driving drunk dangerously without a license, who he then escorts to a DMV office so they can get legal. Case closed.
This state can do a heck of a lot better. Mark Riskedahl of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center says that a big step toward a solution to DEQ's lax enforcement is hiring a new agency director with a get-tough attitude.