Portlanders breathe the dirtiest air in Oregon
Air pollution has serious health consequences for Portland residents and disproportionately harms people of color and low-income residents. Local sources of air pollution cause more respiratory diseases, cardiovascular damage, elevated cancer risk, birth defects, asthma and nerve damage, with widespread economic and social consequences, including death.
A Portland State University study found that 38% of people of color in Portland live within 1.2 miles of the City’s top 10 industrial point sources of air toxics, compared with only 33% of the white population. This proximity increases their vulnerability to the chronic health conditions listed above and could also cause complications if they have Covid-19. Exposure to air toxics is an environmental justice issue that needs attention and solutions for communities of color.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) created the Portland Air Toxics Solutions project to further understand local air toxics problems after DEQ found the Portland region – when compared to all other Oregon regions – has elevated level of air toxics. DEQ concluded that air toxics "are a serious concern in Portland” and “the Portland region has the highest risk [in Oregon] to the population from air toxics due to business and population density.”
This exposure to pollution increases Portlanders health risk, which translates into millions in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Exposure to diesel pollution alone is estimated to cost $3.5 billion a year in health costs.
But for every dollar invested in reducing diesel pollution, $17 in health benefits are delivered.
Last year BPS released two fee proposals for public comment that have distinct and different focus and purpose: (1) healthy climate fee and (2) clean air protection fee.
After the past year of engagement, Commissioner Rubio decided the two policies were on different timelines for implementation and that BPS will move forward with the clean air proposal first. As of October 25th, BPS updated the clean air proposal, calling it the Clean Air Protection Program, and released it for public comment.
Based on stakeholder input, the carbon fee proposal will likely incorporate additional decarbonization elements which warrants more analysis and engagement. BPS will focus on implementing other climate priorities early next year and will resume work on policy development for the carbon fee proposal in 2022.
Proposed solutions to help Portland breathe easier
Because hazardous air toxics harm community health and impose a significant cost to the community and economy, the City of Portland is asking Portland entities with air pollution permits to share the responsibility to reduce pollution and protect the health of Portlanders.
The solutions to curb this pollution require increased action at the local level. To this end, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is proposing a Clean Air Surcharge for Portland's largest emitters of hazardous air pollution, to develop a new air quality program that responds to this critical need.
The proposed surcharge would generate roughly $2 million a year to support pollution reduction programs. The City of Portland would invest the revenue in projects and programs that improve local air quality and enhance community health and resiliency - particularly for communities most impacted by this pollution: Black, Indigenous and communities of color and low-income residents.
The Clean Air Surcharge would establish a $20,000 annual base fee on facilities that generate air pollution locally and are required to hold Simple or Standard Air Contaminant Discharge Permits or Title V Permits from the Oregon DEQ. In response to public comments and stakeholder input, the Clean Air Surcharge also includes a fee of $250 per ton on the largest emitters of particulate matter, NOx, SOx, or volatile organic compounds to incentivize pollution reduction.
Permittees range from the largest industrial facilities and fuel terminals to institutional campuses and large commercial facilities.
View covered entities list and estimated fee levels:
Changes from the original proposal released in 2020 include:
- Renamed Clean Air Surcharge (surcharge is a more accurate term)
- Standardized fee levels to $20,000 base charge for Simple, Standard, and Title V air emission permits (was tiered $15/$25/$40K) in response to public feedback
- Added additional $250/ton emissions surcharge for Title V permit holders in response to public feedback
- Added a Clean Air Advisory Committee to make recommendations on program priorities and evaluation, based on public feedback
The current policy proposal does not exempt covered entities and the original policy draft did not include public entities. The policy was always implemented under the City’s business license tax, which is not applicable to public entities that do not pay taxes. Public entities were shown in tables with their permit levels because they hold those state permits. BPS felt it would have been inappropriate to exclude them and that both public and private entities have a shared responsibility to address air quality concerns. In the current drafts, we have drawn out this distinction for transparency. Since public agencies don’t pay taxes to each other, BPS will work with public agencies that hold air emissions permits through intergovernmental agreements mechanism used by local governments to exchange funding or in-kind resources.
What would the Clean Air Surcharge support?
The Clean Air Surcharge would generate approximately $2 million annually to invest in pollution reduction programs with a focus on environmental justice. Revenue generated from a Clean Air Surcharge will be used to:
- Improve local air quality;
- Decrease the public health impacts from exposure to local air pollution, increase community education about those impacts and support community-based solutions such as good neighbor agreements;
- Engage community stakeholders to prioritize policies and projects to further the program’s purpose including but not limited to the reduction of exposure to air pollution from motor vehicles, construction equipment, residential wood combustion, wildfire events and smoke, with a focus on the communities and geographic areas of the City most impacted by air pollution.
- Engage the State of Oregon, Multnomah County, Metro, Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University to coordinate air quality action and understand air pollution levels in the City and how that impacts exposure to City residents.
Read more about the outcomes and use of revenue: