The Secretary of State’s Audits Division found that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should evaluate staffing and workloads among air quality permit writers and provide better guidance to both staff and businesses to help reduce the agency’s air quality permit backlog.
This audit reviewed air quality permitting at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Air quality permits regulate the types and amounts of air pollution businesses are allowed to emit, based on federal pollution limits set by the Clean Air Act and state limits established in state laws and DEQ rules.
The purpose of this audit was to determine how DEQ could improve its air quality permitting process to better safeguard Oregon’s air quality.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has a significant backlog in air quality permit renewals. We found that:
- 43% (106 out of 246) of DEQ’s largest and most complex federal and state air quality permit renewals are overdue for renewal. Additionally, more than 40% of the most complex permits issued from 2007 to 2017 exceeded timeframes established by DEQ or the Clean Air Act, some by several years.
- DEQ struggles to issue timely permits and renewals due to a variety of factors, including competing priorities, vacancies, and position cuts that have created unmanageable workloads. Other factors include inconsistent support and guidance for staff; a lack of clear, accessible guidance for applicants; and increased time for the public engagement process.
- Untimely permits, combined with a current backlog of inspections, endanger the state’s air quality and the health of Oregonians. For example, when DEQ does not issue permit renewals on time, businesses may not provide DEQ with data showing they are complying with new or updated rules.
To reach our findings, we conducted interviews, analyzed air permit data, reviewed documents and reported practices, and researched leading practices.
Based on our review of leading practices and air quality agencies in other states, the report includes ten recommendations to the Department of Environmental Quality. Recommendations include evaluating permit writer workloads and staffing, clarifying the public engagement process, providing better guidance to permit writers and businesses, and conducting a process improvement effort.
The agency agreed with our findings and recommendations. Its response can be found at the end of the report.