SALEM — The Environmental Quality Commission has three new members, a month after Gov. Kate Brown fired three incumbents to make way for them.
But the Oregon Senate confirmed them Tuesday only after minority Republicans voiced their concerns about Brown’s abrupt action March 29.
The closest vote of 16-13 was for Molly Kile, an associate professor at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, who specializes in how exposure to chemicals affect public health.
A 19-10 vote confirmed Robert “Wade” Mosby of Lake Oswego, a retired forest products executive.
A 24-5 vote confirmed Kathleen George, a council member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and a former employee of the Department of Environmental Quality who worked with small communities for compliance with pollution standards.
Kile won no Republican votes; the others got some Republican support. Democrats were unanimous except for Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who was absent.
The commission, which is back to its full membership of five, is the policy-making arm of the agency.
The commission is scheduled next year, through its rule-making process, to consider a shift in how the agency regulates toxic air pollutants from industrial sources.
A Brown-appointed advisory panel recommended last fall to shift the state’s focus to cumulative effects of pollutants on public health, rather than the amounts of pollutants generated by individual plants.
“It goes beyond the EPA [federal] standard and will be harmful to industry in Oregon,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. “I think it’s time that we as a Senate stepped up and said we need to do things in a more reasonable and rational way.”
Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, had a different reason for opposition.
All five commission members voted in February to elevate Richard Whitman from acting to permanent director of the agency. Brown, in her March 29 action, said she disagreed with the appointment process though not the result.
“Just because the person was different from who the governor wanted does not mean she should have the right to fire the majority of the commission,” Hansell said. “What happened to them was wrong.”
Hansell also said the appointments leave the commission without someone from outside the Willamette Valley.
Hansell said he is a personal friend of Melinda Eden of Milton-Freewater, who had three months left to go on a term she was named to in 2013, and knows Colleen Johnson, a professor of economics at Eastern Oregon University and a former mayor of La Grande, who was just confirmed for a second term. The third was Morgan Rider of Portland.
Eden also was on the commission from 1996 until 2003, when she joined the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
The EQC is one of the few remaining state boards that has authority to appoint the agency director, and Hansell said Brown should have honored that.
During a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee last week, all three nominees said their appointments were not contingent upon automatic support of the new plan, which would allow DEQ to regulate pollutants generated from several sources in the same area even if an individual company’s pollutants are considered at a safe level.
Brown appointed the Cleaner Air Oregon advisory panel last year after public reaction to pollutants generated by two Portland eastside glassmakers — Bullseye Glass, which is now in compliance, and Uroboros Glass, which was sold in December and its production moved to Mexico — and by Precision Castparts at its plant in Southeast Portland.
The panel’s plan also calls for the state to set health-based concentrations for 215 toxic air pollutants, up from the current 52.