Thursday, July 30, 2009

Contemplating the role of sincerity in institutional change

OK, I know that sounds more like a Tweet or a Facebook status update (which it was) than a title for an essay. I have been asked by many of you to communicate the outcome of the July 29th meeting with Dick Pedersen, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality.  The general impetus for the meeting was the dissatisfaction of neighbors with regards to DEQ's response in the wake of the USA Today Report, and a growing crisis of faith in the community of his agency to work honestly on behalf of citizens to protect us from unfettered industrial pollution. The purpose of the meeting, was a little more specific.  Mainly we want to see them do a better job of oversight at the ESCO facility, and industrial pollution sources in general; and, because of the afore-mentioned crisis of faith issue, we had some specific actions that we expect DEQ to take to achieve the desired outcome.

 To be expected, we have no clear answers on the specific requests we made, the first of which, was to ask Mr. Pedersen to view a 20 minute video that was taken at the Town Hall Meeting on May 21.  In this meeting he can see the frustrations of neighbors as they continue to ask reasonable specific questions, and get answers from his staff about process. Most of the other neighborhood requests are around obtaining a clearer picture about what ESCO does and how they might do it better (or in the case of the toxic industrial pollution: do LESS of it).  We are left once again in the position to wait and see how DEQ responds.  Clearly their's is not a track record that inspires optimism on this issue with this neighborhood.

So what is the difference?  Why the optimism today? First and foremost because I think as a neighborhood we have done an excellent job applying the pressure that is needed to enact change.  Have I reminded you lately how amazing it was to collect over 1200 signatures on the petition we circulated in little over a month? (Signatures are still coming in and keep them coming.) That when over 100 concerned citizens show up at a Town Hall Mtg ("I have been doing this for twenty years and this is the most people I have ever seen at a meeting" -Greg Lande, DEQ) it makes a difference. Do I need to tell you again that when one representative gets over 150 emails/letters about the same issue (Mitch Greenlick after the Town Hall Mtg) that he will feel compelled to do something? Clearly the difference, and the sense of optimism comes from you and your willingness to do the work we need to send the message that this is important to us.

That brings me to the meditation on sincerity. There was another dynamic at play in the meeting room yesterday. (Possibly inspired in great part by the presence, on the neighbors' behalf, of Mark Riskedahl, who, as executive director of the NEDC, has been the most effective thorn in the side of industrial polluters in this state, and whose engagement on this particular issue must inspire a vigorous accountability -if not more than a bit of fear- on the part of the DEQ staffers involved.)  But in many ways the meeting boiled down to one man: Dick Pedersen, and his sincerity to bring change to the Department of Environmental Quality that inspires public trust. 

So, while Mr. Pedersen needs to recognize that there is not a great reserve of patience for waiting and seeing how DEQ process might resolve this,  I think as a neighborhood we should extend the benefit of the doubt that his desire to be an agent of change is real, and we will take it on face value to believe him, until he proves otherwise.  The clock is ticking.


  1. As you may have heard Cascadia Times is investigating the air quality issue in Portland

    Here are some of our findings.

    What I've found is that toxic air emissions from ESCO, a steel foundry in Northwest Portland, grew by 4800 percent from 2003-2007.

    They are serious enough to be impacting neighboods all over Portland, from Gresham to Hillsboro and Lake Oswego to Vancouver.

    This is a citywide problem and is not limited to just one neighborhood.

    I've learned that arsenic, antimony lead, hexavalent chromium, manganese, nickel, selenium, copper, zinc and mercury are just some of the toxins found by independent monitoring of ESCO’s emissions.

    But ESCO is not the only polluter of toxins into Portland air. Oil companies like BP and Chevron are discharging massive amounts of toxic gasoline vapors, including carcinogenic benzene, from more than 500 large, leaky storage tanks across the Willamette River from the Rose Garden Arena, and into Northwest, North and Northeast Portland.

    "The right-to-know" eludes Portlanders. Oil giant Kinder-Morgan Inc., an Enron spinoff, is one of those gasoline companies with toxic emissions. But its emissions from more than 150 gaoline storage facilities in Portland and across the country have never been reported to the public, unlike emission from many other polluters. Kinder-Morgan’s CEO was the number 1 fundraiser for fellow oilman George Bush's presidential campaigns. Aren't you into campaign finance re4form? Here's your poster boy,

    Residents say odors from ESCO and the gasoline terminals have been causing discomfort, headaches and nausea. Oregon's DEQ says it has done all it can do to abate residents’ suffering from toxics in the air.

    We developed a 2-page map: “Portland's toxic cloud” — by converting EPA air-toxins data to a map of Portland charting the spread of pollution from ESCO. Our’ analysis of the data shows that as you go closer to the ESCO site, the more toxic the air gets. Leave a comment if you wou like a draft odf copy, -Paul Koberstein

  2. This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

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