SALEM – The state environmental agency’s backlog of inspections and permits could endanger Oregon’s air quality and residents’ health, state auditors said.
The Oregon Audits Division’s report made public Wednesday shows 43 percent of the state’s largest air polluters are operating with expired permits, the Statesman Journal reported.
The expired permits mean those businesses might not be meeting the most recent environmental standards, auditors said.
“Untimely permits, combined with a current backlog of inspections, endanger the state’s air quality and the health of Oregonians,” the auditors said in the report.
The backlogs and regulatory uncertainty could deter companies from moving to Oregon, auditors said.
“Some business leaders and permit holders expressed frustration and decreasing confidence in DEQ’s ability to effectively manage the permit program,” auditors said.
The state Department of Environmental Quality told auditors it’s behind on inspections, but that it does not have a system for tracking when inspections are due.
Department Director Richard Whitman said the problems stem partially from declining funding.
Whitman said the department has begun addressing the problems identified in the report, and it is developing a plan to present to the state Legislature in 2019 to better fund the permitting and inspection work.
“These changes will put us in the best possible position to protect Oregonians and their environment,” Whitman said. “While, ultimately, we will need Oregon’s legislature to decide what funding is appropriate for clean air and clean water, we understand that we must first demonstrate that we have done everything possible with existing resources.”
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