regulations small

“Emergency study” is a bit of a contradiction. But it’s far from the only mystifying aspect of House Bill 4044, which would order the Department of Environmental Quality to study “risks and issues related to earthquake-induced toxic inhalation” and follow up with proposed legislation. What’s particularly mystifying about the bill – even more than its emergency clause – is the fact that it isn’t necessary at all.

As OBI’s Sharla Moffett told the House Committee on Emergency Management, General Government and Veterans Feb. 6, the bill’s emergency study and subsequent recommendations would duplicate a federal program that is, even now, being strengthened. In other words, to adopt HB 4044 would be to take a large first step toward the creation of wholly unnecessary state-level regulations.

The EPA’s Risk Management Program, created by section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, regulates facilities that hold specified quantities of more than 260 hazardous or flammable substances. Each facility regulated under this program must submit a risk management plan that, among other things, explains the potential effects of a chemical accident. Such plans identify steps facilities have taken to prevent accidents, and they detail emergency response procedures.

These EPA-mandated plans provide valuable information to local emergency responders, who use them to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies.

HB 4044 focuses on one type of event that could trigger a release of toxic or flammable substances: earthquakes. The EPA, however, is in the process of amending its rules to strengthen Risk Management Plan regulations. These strengthened rules would, among other things, emphasize requirements for evaluating risks of natural hazards and climate change. The rule defines natural hazards as “naturally occurring events that have the potential for negative impact, including meteorological or geologic hazards.”

The Oregon DEQ undoubtedly has better uses for its finite budget and staff resources than studying and proposing legislation to address hazards already regulated tightly – and soon to be more tightly – by the EPA.

Just as importantly, the adoption of redundant state regulations would further erode Oregon’s business climate while doing nothing to enhance public safety that the EPA is not doing already. In early 2023, OBI conducted a survey of hundreds of small businesses. Seventy four percent of respondents said that regulations affecting business change so frequently that it’s hard to keep up. Only 18% of respondents said they believed state lawmakers care about the success of their businesses. Bills like HB 4044 drive both perceptions.