Oregon EV rebate program charges ahead

Expanded rebates will make it more affordable for Oregonians to buy new or used electric cars.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality yesterday announced it is now processing all Charge Ahead rebate applications, which are available to low- and middle-income households, as part of the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. While DEQ has distributed Standard rebates since late 2018, the Charge Ahead rebate applications have been stored in a queue while the agency retained a contractor with the security standards required to protect financial data. DEQ has now retained the Center for Sustainable Energy, a non-profit clean energy program administrator, to manage the rebates, as well as develop an easy-to-use digital dashboard and marketing strategies to expand consumer awareness.

“The Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebates Program has already issued more than $9 million in Standard rebates since launching in December 2018,” said Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality division administrator, DEQ. “With CSE’s extensive and secure infrastructure, rebates will now go out more quickly. We hope these rebates will encourage more Oregonians than ever to purchase zero emission vehicles and partner with us to improve air quality while saving money.”

The Oregon Clean Vehicle Program has two types of cash rebates for drivers who purchase or lease electric vehicles. The first is the Standard rebate, which gives $1500 or $2500 back for the purchase or lease for a new battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The vehicle’s battery capacity determines the rebate amount. Additionally, a purchase or lease of a zero-emission electric motorcycle qualifies for a $750 rebate.

Next is the Charge Ahead rebate, which gives $2500 back to low- or moderate-income households when they purchase or lease a new or used battery electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles purchased on or after Sept. 29, 2019 also qualify for this rebate. DEQ has an Income Eligibility Calculator that can help determine if a household is qualified for money back. CSE is processing applications in the order they were received, beginning with those submitted in 2018. It is currently contacting all Charge Ahead applicants via email to request proof of household income.  

“We are proud to assist Oregon DEQ in their efforts to extend electric vehicle rebates to low- and moderate-income residents who are often the most impacted by transportation emissions and the least able to purchase a cleaner car,” said Lawrence Goldenhersh, president of the Center for Sustainable Energy. “The added value of these rebates, in particular the Charge Ahead rebate for used EVs, will help greater numbers of Oregonians to make more sustainable personal transportation choices while supporting state and local goals for cleaner air and reduced fossil-fuel emissions.”

In addition, the Environmental Quality Commission, DEQ’s policy and rulemaking board, recently made permanent previously temporary rules, which broaden the definition of a “household” and allow more people to apply for the Charge Ahead rebate.

“Currently, transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gases,” said Gov. Kate Brown. “In order to help lower our emissions to our targets, it’s vital to make sure that we are doing all we can to provide viable and affordable alternatives for sustainable transportation, including participating in the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.”

Last August, DEQ and other state agencies announced that Oregon had registered more than 26,000 electric vehicles, marking more than halfway to Governor Brown’s goal of 50,000 electric vehicles registered in the state by the end of 2020.

Since 2018, DEQ has received $12 million a year for the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program through funding generated from a tax imposed on car dealers. The program and annual subsidy will end on Jan. 2, 2024.

— Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist

OSU-Cascades begins reclaiming former landfill for campus expansion

Oregon State University’s Cascades campus began full-scale excavation at the former Bend Demolition Landfill in December as part of its expansion master plan.

The landfill contains mostly wood waste and sawdust from Bend’s old mills, and test results reviewed by DEQ show the soil from the landfill can be safely reused as filler for new areas of campus. This allows OSU to reuse soil it already owns rather than having to purchase and transport additional soil from elsewhere. It’s also a boon for the environment.

“Soil itself is a natural resource, just like water. So if we can avoid using it, all the better,” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ cleanup project manager.

OSU will screen out the soil from the demolition waste and use it to raise the ground level of the adjacent former pumice mine for the first phase of the expansion. Some of the landfill soil will be blended with clean soil or pumice to ensure it has sufficient strength to serve as a foundation layer for future buildings.

DEQ issued a Beneficial Use Determination in December allowing OSU to use the landfill soil as a filler. Site development will include raising the elevation of the pumice mine floor by about 40 feet. OSU plans to expand its newest campus over portions of the former pumice mine and the demolition landfill.

“Future plans will include removal of the deeper waste on the east side of the landfill, which has been a concern because it generates a lot of heat as it decomposes,” said Schwarz. “That phase of the development will address the primary environmental issue at the landfill.”

OSU purchased the former landfill from Deschutes County under a Prospective Purchaser Agreement with DEQ in 2018. The agreement set requirements for safely removing waste from the landfill for the planned campus expansion.

DEQ’s Bob Schwarz, David Anderson and Ron Doughten are overseeing this work. Tracy England, Charles Kennedy and Scott Yankey are inspecting the construction.

Find more info about the site on the Bend Demolition Landfill ECSI page.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist

DEQ takes crucial step to improve health of Willamette Basin

After several years of research, outreach, data analysis and effort, DEQ’s water quality team issued on Nov. 22 a revised plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, to reduce mercury in the Willamette Basin. (See OPB coverage) One week later, the EPA sent DEQ a letter disapproving the TMDL. EPA now has 30 days to issue its TMDL.

“DEQ is disappointed with EPA’s action,” wrote Jennifer Wigal, deputy administrator for water quality. “Implementation of DEQ’s revised TMDL would be protective of Willamette Basin streams, eventually meet water quality standards throughout the basin and continue to reduce mercury levels and make it safer for communities to eat fish from the river basin. DEQ’s revised TMDL represented a balanced approach, informed by scientific research and substantially more data than the 2006 TMDL.”

DEQ will continue to work with EPA to understand the implications of this action to ensure that an EPA plan meets the goal of protecting the health of people who consume fish from the Willamette Basin. DEQ will continue to communicate with affected parties as details of the process forward are clarified.

The Willamette Mercury TMDL website has more information, including the EPA letter.

What is the future of recycling in Oregon?

Dozens of recycling thought leaders gathered in Salem to hear about ways to modernize Oregon’s recycling system.

Dozens of Oregon recycling representatives gathered in Salem on Jan. 31 to learn about potential options for a future recycling system in Oregon. 

The information session was part of the multi-year Recycling Steering Committee project, which is convened by DEQ and facilitated by Oregon Consensus, a program of Portland State University and the National Policy Consensus Center. About 175 people attended in person or by webinar, including state, regional and local governments, recycling collection companies, material processors, manufacturers and environmental nonprofit groups.

Oregon’s recycling system was heavily disrupted in 2018 after China and other international markets began restricting their acceptance of many materials. Since then, DEQ and its partners have been working through the steering committee to make recommendations to update and modernize Oregon’s recycling system. The goal is to ensure the recycling system creates benefits for the environment, is strong and adaptable to change, and restores and maintains public trust.

Resource Recycling Systems, the researcher working on behalf of the steering committee, presented results from their in-depth analysis of several potential options for a future recycling system. These options include policy changes, contracts and agreements, which the steering committee will consider for the state’s future system.

In their analysis, the researchers evaluated five potential scenarios, which include a range of government and producer responsibility options for financing and operational control of the system. The scenarios were each evaluated against 16 key “functions” that the steering committee would like to see a future recycling system achieve – such as resiliency, shared responsibility, equitable access, integration and transparency.

Next step: the steering committee will begin seeking consensus in mid-March about a recommendation for a path forward, based on the scenarios offered by Resource Recycling Systems research and input from participants throughout the process. Stay tuned to the project website for updates. The full in-depth evaluation is available online here.

— Sanne Stienstra, material recovery specialist

Retired Prairie City landfill gets upgrade thanks to Orphan Site Account

An old landfill outside Prairie City will get necessary upgrades this year thanks to funding from DEQ’s Solid Waste Orphan Site Account.

DEQ will reimburse the eastern Oregon city up to $100,000 for improvements to the landfill, which closed in 2016. Prairie City will use the funds to reinforce the landfill’s run-down soil cover and reconstruct drainage ditches to prevent stormwater from flowing over the site and causing further erosion.

These improvements will prevent people and wildlife in the area from coming into contact with waste—and protect them from the associated health risks.

The Oregon legislature created the Solid Waste Orphan Site Account in 1989 to support projects where the responsible parties are unknown, unwilling or unable to complete necessary cleanup or maintenance. The program is funded by a 13 cent per ton fee on tipping rates for solid waste disposed in Oregon.

Eastern Region’s Matt Slafkosky, Bob Schwarz and Ron Doughten are overseeing the project. They expect the landfill to begin construction late spring or early summer.

– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist

DEQ is 2nd in state for most public record requests

Kristen Mercer, left, and Leela Yellesetty handle thousands of public records requests every year.

Every hour of every day, on average, DEQ receives a public records request. In 2018, the agency received a total of 4,635 separate requests for data, emails, reports and other documents – making it second only to the Oregon State Police for volume of requests among state agencies.

On the receiving end are Leela Yellesetty, public records officer, and Kristen Mercer, public records coordinator, whose job is to ensure a timely response, whether the request comes from a news reporter, a member of the public or anyone else with an interest in DEQ’s work.

“One of the things I love about working in public records is getting to see all the diverse and important work taking place across the agency,” says Yellesetty. “It’s impressive.”

Additionally, she says, public access to DEQ’s records help “showcase our work to the broader community. It’s also a great way for us as an agency to get a pulse on what the public is interested in so we can get them the information they need in new and better ways.”

Every document produced at DEQ is considered a public record, although a small fraction may be exempt from disclosure. People request records from DEQ for all kinds of reasons. A contractor wants to know about storm water permits at a certain site before building or remodeling. A reporter wants access to emails regarding a recent spill. A real estate agent needs documentation on an underground storage tank.

Yellesetty and Mercer make every attempt to fill the request within a few days, and nine out of 10 are filled within 15 business days.

Mercer credits public records coordinators within each DEQ program and region for the quick handling of record requests. “They do the heavy lifting,” she said. “For instance, we just got 203 requests from one company, and they are taking it in stride. They truly are the ones who get these requests completed in a timely manner.”

In other words, it’s a team effort, she said. According a recent survey, some 60 percent of DEQ staff had helped respond to a public records request.

Yellesetty and Mercer recently sent out an anonymous survey to DEQ records requesters. The vast majority of responders expressed satisfaction with how their requests were handled. Here is what one had to say:

“Of all the agencies I have requested info from, DEQ is the most outstanding. I told that to the Governor’s public records task force committee. They already had heard that DEQ was an example of outstanding transparency. Thanks!”

And, DEQ is working to respond even faster by investing in a new system to modernize the public records request process. The new system will include an online portal where the team can interact with requesters, including posting records directly online.

“It will also allow self-service for some requests,” Yellesetty said. “Our goal is to provide the best service we can to the public.”

— Harry Esteve, communications manager

DEQ to play a big role in upcoming legislative session

The State Capital Building Adorned With The Oregon Pioneer With
The 2019 legislative session gets underway Feb. 3

The biennial “short session” of the Oregon Legislature opens Monday, Feb. 3, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will figure prominently when the gavels come down in the House and Senate.

“This session will be framed by the climate conversation,” said Annalisa Bhatia, senior legislative advisor for DEQ. At stake is proposed carbon “cap and trade” legislation, currently contained in a bill similar to one that prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans during last year’s legislative session.

One difference, however, is that DEQ would be given oversight authority of the cap and trade program, should the bill pass in its current form. In previous sessions, the legislature considered creating a separate agency to oversee the program.

The carbon reduction bill is one of hundreds that will be introduced during the 35-day session, which is expected to last through the first week of March. Already nearly 300 bills have been introduced, with more coming every day, Bhatia said. Of those, more than 30 are directly or indirectly related to DEQ – primarily on the water quality side.

One issue that could get significant attention is the testing of water systems for cyanotoxins from harmful algae blooms, which disrupted Salem’s drinking water supply in 2018 after appearing in Detroit Lake. Bhatia says there will be legislation to bolster DEQ lab’s water testing capabilities through investment.

Also on the docket is a bill to create a product stewardship program for mattresses and additional grant funding for onsite low interest lending.

The pace can get hectic because there is little time to meet bill deadlines, Bhatia said. “It’s a whirlwind,” she said. But it’s also exciting and critically important to DEQ and the rest of the state.

“What I like about it is, everyone is talking about how to make the best policy for Oregon and how to make it a better place,” she said.

Joining Bhatia is the office of policy and analysis team of Matt Davis (air), Abby Boudouris (land) and Rian Hooff (water). We wish them luck!

— Harry Esteve, communications manager

Turning water into beer

Washington County’s recycled water can now be used by breweries and distilleries to make beer, whiskey and other adult beverages.

DEQ recently approved Clean Water Service’s request to expand their high purity recycled water program, allowing CWS to provide this water to commercial brewers and distilleries to produce alcoholic beverages for sale to the general population. This decision broadens DEQ’s approval in 2015 to allow home brewers to use this same process in a competition for distribution at trade shows.

Clean Water Services is the water resources management utility serving urban Washington County.  CWS uses a process that takes the highest quality of recycled water in state regulations from one of their four water resource recovery facilities and subjects it to a treatment train of ultrafiltration.

“CWS’ mobile treatment system—the Pure Water Wagon—utilizes a four step process of ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and advance oxidation to produce high purity water that is cleaner than drinking water,” said Mark Jockers, Government and Public Affairs Director for CWS.

DEQ’s water quality and Oregon Health Authority’s drinking water programs have reviewed and approved this treatment process for creating water that meets or exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. The same process is used in parts of Texas, New Mexico and California for domestic drinking water supplies.

“The use of recycled water can improve water quality by reducing discharges to rivers and streams and decreasing demand on clean water not being used for drinking,” said Pat Heins, DEQ’s Water Reuse Program Coordinator.

Since DEQ’s 2015 approval, Oregon Brew Crew has held five annual Pure Water Brew competitions for home brewers using the CWS high purity water. The pioneering work by CWS, Oregon Brew Crew and DEQ has spawned similar efforts worldwide with utilities partnering with home and commercial brewers in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Singapore and Portugal. In 2017, CWS joined other utilities, consultants, equipment manufactures and brewers to form the Pure Water Brewing Alliance to advance sustainable water management globally.   

The U.S. Brewers Association has reported that Oregon has 284 craft breweries (10th in the nation), which generated 1.03 million barrels of beer, or 32 million gallons (9th in the nation). Beer is 90 percent water and, according to the Brewers Association, it can take three to seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer at the brewery.

“We must judge water based on its quality, not its history,” said Jockers. “We are producing water that is fit for purpose—water that can be returned to environment; water for irrigation—even water for beer.  Water should be defined by its purpose, not its history or the level of treatment that it has received.”

Commercial brewers are scheduled to begin brewing with 100 percent pure recycled water in 2020 with the official launch scheduled at the 33rd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival at Portland’s Waterfront Park in July. 

“As our brewers are fond of saying, ‘all water aspires to be beer,’” added Jockers. “But this water really deserves it!”

Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist

Video: DEQ Laboratory develops lower-cost SensOR™

In December 2019, the Lab’s Air Quality Monitoring team announced it has developed a new lower-cost device that will allow them to provide timely particulate pollution information at more locations throughout the state. Already, eight of the devices, called the SensOR, have been placed at new Air Quality Index sites in Bend, Brookings, Chiloquin, Coos Bay, Florence, Forest Grove, northeast Portland and Redmond.

The team, led by Lance Hochmuth, Dan Johnson and Anthony Barnack, designed the monitor to include a heated inlet to reduce interference from humidity; regulated air sample flow; automated quality control checks; data acquisition and cellular communication. The team spent several months calibrating the SensORs to PM2.5 federal reference instruments to ensure the AQI is accurate and reliable.

“This is really a testament to the resourcefulness and expertise of our lab team. It is due to their hard work and creativity that we are able to provide the public with more accurate data on the quality of the air in their region,” said Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality administrator. “One new SensOR costs approximately $5,000 to $10,000 less than monitors we have purchased in the past. That savings means we can deploy more devices to more areas.”

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature funded monitoring at an additional 30 locations. In July, DEQ obtained a provisional patent from the U.S. Patent Office for the new tool to protect its continued use. DEQ also secured a trademark through the Oregon Secretary of State for the device name.

DEQ expects to install more monitors over the next few months. The goal is to have SensORs at all 30 sites statewide within the next year.

Air Quality Monitoring Manager Tom Roick oversaw the project and was interviewed by several news outlets. Thus far, news articles include KTVZ NBC Channel 21 (Bend), Willamette Week, 1190 KEX Radio (Portland) and The Corvallis Advocate, with more stories expected in the next few weeks.

− Susan C. Mills, public affairs specialist

Spill drills and current busters

The ships come and go, but the plan – equipment and people – are always here and prepared to respond.

— Elizabeth Wainwright, MFSA Director

Ships from around the world carry oil into Oregon. In the unlikely event of a spill, DEQ is helping ensure the state is prepared to respond. Recently, I had a chance to witness one such drill and discuss the procedures with DEQ Spill Contingency Planner, Scott Smith.

You may have seen news coverage with Smith talking about what their drills entails and about the Marine Fire and Safety Association.

The association “is like a type of pollution insurance plan that ships carrying oil into Oregon can buy into,” Scott told me. It maintains an oil spill contingency plan that is approved to respond to spills along the Lower Columbia River from the mouth near Astoria to the I-205 bridge, and on the Willamette River from Willamette Falls to where it meets the Columbia. The pan covers more than 1,500 vessels each year to meet the high standards established by Washington and Oregon.

Scott and I went to watch a deployment drill, which means that the responders practice using some of the equipment they would use in an oil spill response. These drills are conducted no less than twice a year in accordance with DEQ, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Coast Guard regulations. This time, they were using a newer technology called a Current Buster. It’s a type of boom that funnels the oil between two inflated arms and then separates it from the water so it can be pumped into a holding take and taken to a refinery.

While only a few pieces of equipment were being deployed, there were a lot of people. That is because Maritime Fire & Safety Association establishes partnerships with communities along the parts of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers that they cover, and members of those communities volunteer their boats and their own time in the event of a spill. On this day, many of these community members out of Cathlamet, Washington, were present to learn how to deploy the Current Buster.

Actual spills are quite rare due to prevention measures in the way that ships are built, but it makes me feel better knowing that we at DEQ are part of a partnership that upholds the standards for oil spill response on our rivers. As MFSA Director, Elizabeth Wainwright said, “The ships come and go, but the plan – equipment and people – are always here and prepared to respond.”

-Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist