HB 3591: Water permit bill gets bipartisan support

Bipartisan Water Permitting Bill Out
– Helps cities and businesses deal with big fiscal impacts of having nation’s most stringent standards.
By John Ledger
Associated Oregon Industries

A bipartisan bill directing the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to minimize negative economic impacts when issuing variances in some water discharge permits has been introduced into the legislative hopper. Scores of Oregon industrial and municipal wastewater dischargers will need to obtain variances from the DEQ as the only way to meet Oregon’s proposed water quality standards, the toughest in the nation, and continue operation.

The proposed standards are the result of lawsuits and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements. They are so stringent as to be un-meetable without a DEQ variance for literally dozens of pollutants.

The variance process is expected to begin late this year or early next after the DEQ formally adopts, and the EPA approves, the new standards. Currently, details are unclear as to what new requirements will be inserted into variances. In some cases, the costs of expected additional conditions are estimated to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

HB 3591 does two things to help control or limit costs. First, it directs the agency to consult with the applicant and seek, when developing the variance, to minimize harmful economic impacts. Second, it prohibits variances from being used as a vehicle for imposing unrelated requirements upon the applicant as a condition of obtaining the variance.

The bill will benefit residents and businesses that discharge into municipal systems, cities, as well as industries such as pulp and paper, metals, high tech, and general manufacturing. It does not change any standards nor limit DEQ’s ability to conform to federal requirements.

Thanks go to the sponsors of the measure, especially Representative Jason Conger:

Primary Sponsors:
Representative Jason Conger (R – Bend)
Representative Mike Schaufler (D – Happy Valley) Co-Chair of House Business Committee

Representative Cliff Bentz (R – Ontario)
Representative Margaret Doherty (D – Tigard)
Representative Mark Johnson (R – Hood River)
Representative Bill Kennemer (R – Oregon City) Co-Chair of the House Business Committee
Representative Greg Matthews (D – Gresham)
Representative Julie Parrish (R – West Linn)
Representative Jim Weidner (R – McMinnville)
Representative Gene Whisnant (R – Sunriver)
Senator Betsy Johnson (D – Scappoose)

AOI worked closely with the primary sponsors in drafting of the bill.

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