Legislature moves major water permit bill

Committee passes out Water Permitting Variance Bill
AOI-backed bill, deals worked to minimize major costs to manufacturers
By John Ledger

HB 3591A, (Representative Jason Conger (R-Bend) a bill important to cities, manufacturers, and jobs, received a unanimous “Do Pass” recommendation from the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee and is headed to the House floor.

HB 3591A deals with the problem Oregon manufacturers and cities will be facing when Oregon adopts the nation’s most stringent statewide water quality standards. The permits that many cities and manufactures now have will no longer meet federal law without a variance from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The variance is being offered by the DEQ as one of several new tools they have developed to address the problem of impossibly strict standards. The conditions to be placed in a variance are expected to be significant, given federal requirements, and manufacturers that discharge into a municipal system or directly into waterways are expected to face large cost increases – literally in the tens of millions of dollars – and possibly operational limitations.

The new proposed standards are the result of a lawsuit and Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions. The EPA had indicated that if the state does not adopt the standards on its own, the federal government will do so and the variance program will likely be unavailable to Oregon cities and manufacturers.

The bill provides clear direction to the DEQ to seek to minimize negative economic impacts of conditions in the variances while still meeting the most demanding EPA requirements in the nation, and prohibits extraneous conditions. A clarifying amendment was offered by Representative Jefferson Smith (D-Portland), which was adopted unanimously.

The bill was brought at the request of AOI and developed in close cooperation with, and support from, the DEQ. The bill is widely supported by such groups as:

American Forest Products Association
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
League of Oregon Cities
Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association
Oregon Forest Industries Council
Oregon Home Builders Association
Oregon Metals Industries Association
Oregon Pulp & Paper Association
Port of Portland

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