Rule will cost Oregon manufacturers millions

Manufacturers to be Facing Millions in New Costs
By John Ledger
Associated Oregon Industries

Steep cost increases, curtailments, or new construction requirements loom for manufacturers discharging wastewater into municipal systems or directly into waters of the state.

Proposed statewide water quality standards, the result of lawsuits and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements, are expected to result in new Oregon water quality standards more stringent than any other state – so stringent that they will be impossible to meet. In some cases the standards will be below detectable limits or background. As a result, the only way some dischargers may be able to obtain a permit will be if they apply for and are granted a variance by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The variances have been developed by the Oregon DEQ as one of several tools whereby facilities will be able to continue operation without violating the Clean Water Act.

These variances will not be a free pass and are subject to federal EPA veto. They will, of necessity, contain “pollution reduction plans” requiring controls or other limitations tightening over time. Variances will be difficult to obtain due to federal requirements, subject to hearing and public comment, and once issued by the Oregon DEQ, will not be effective unless approved by the EPA in Seattle, WA. Estimates of costs run into tens of millions for many dischargers.

Much of the manufacturing community will be affected even if they do not directly discharge into rivers. Municipal dischargers are expected to need a variance with associated conditions and, as usual, control costs or intake restrictions will be passed back up to manufacturers discharging into the system. A separate variance and control plan will be required for each applicable pollutant. Many direct discharges have produced cost estimates ruining in the tens of millions.

Two bills dealing with this problem received their first hearing Monday.

HB 3591, a strongly bipartisan bill brought in by Representative Jason Conger (R – Bend) would require the DEQ, when issuing a variance to minimize the negative economic impacts of the conditions, as well as clarifying that the variance cannot be conditioned on unrelated actions. The bill has received wide backing from business groups and local government. Details of the bill were presented by John Ledger of AOI and Stephen Higgs, Perkins Coie, LLP. There was no opposition; however, a tribal representative announced that although they support the bill they would like to propose some amendments. Talks are expected to take place this week.

HB 2007 is a much more detailed bill developed by Northwest Pulp & Paper Association (NWPPA) dealing with how the DEQ would go about developing and issuing the variances. The bill, also supported by AOI and a wide range of business groups and local governments, received opposition from some environmental groups partially because the bill delays the effective date until 2013 so as to allow the agency to find the most efficient way to formulate and issue variances. Kathryn VanNatta of NWPPA, whose work on this issue has been remarkable, provided key testimony.

No vote was taken. The committee is expected to take up the bills again in the next couple of weeks.

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