A grant for air monitoring narrowly passed Ways and Means Friday after lawmakers unleashed their dissatisfaction with DEQ.
SALEM — Peter Courtney used his prerogative as Senate president Friday, May 19, to cast a deciding vote to approve a Department of Environmental Quality grant application that some state lawmakers rejected earlier this month because of unhappiness with the agency.
The lawmakers’ dissatisfaction delayed a vote for several weeks on whether to approve the agency’s application to the Environmental Protection Agency for a $650,000 grant to test for air toxins related to diesel fuel in several neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland.
The Joint Committee on Ways and Means initially lacked the votes to approve the grant application, until Courtney stepped in. Both the Senate president and House Speaker Tina Kotek have the authority to vote on any committee from their respective chamber.
Courtney took a place on the Ways and Means Committee Friday, May 19, replacing Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who had planned to vote no on the grant application. Johnson agreed to voluntarily step aside, according to Courtney’s office.
Some lawmakers opposed the grant application because of their anger over revelations that DEQ planned to publicize a potential, but unproven, pollution risk in the air surrounding a battery parts manufacturer in Lebanon. The company, Entek International, sued DEQ and won a gag order in April preventing the agency from notifying the public of their concerns.
DEQ had received information from the federal Environmental Protection Agency that modeling indicated Entek’s use of a cancer-causing solvent, called trichloroethylene, or TCE, could pose an air pollution risk to workers and nearby residents, said Palmer Mason, DEW legislative adviser. DEQ wanted to set up air monitoring around the facility to glean more information about the impact of the solvent.
“We weren’t saying that Entek was actually was presenting a real…