Oregon DEQ facing possible layoffs due to federal budget cuts

FILE -- An Oregon Department of Environmental Quality air monitoring station. (KATU File Photo)

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality could be facing major layoffs, according to a memo released earlier this week.

The layoffs would come from the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lisa Frack, with Neighbors for Clean Air, is on the front lines fighting for clean air in Portland.

“When I first learned of the air problem in Portland I was shocked, as many people are,” she said.

Frack moved her family to Oregon, hoping to live a clean, green lifestyle. She didn’t expect to worry about her children’s health.

“I am concerned about their lungs. Am I doing what I can to protect their lungs, so when they are older they don't have diseases that I could have prevented?” Frack said.

Frack started working with Neighbors for Clean Air about seven years ago. Now with looming budget cuts for DEQ, she’s worried.

“To have budget cuts at this exact moment when we finally have a window of opportunity and political attention and community attention to solve it -- we need the funds now to come together,” she said.

Richard Whitman is the director of Oregon DEQ. He says he was shocked that President Trump's proposed budget slashes the EPA funding by 31 percent.

“It was a surprise and frankly, disconcerting,” he said.

Those cuts mean DEQ would be forced to lay off 30 people out of about 650 employees. The bulk of them in air and water quality divisions.

“These are core programs of the agency in terms of protecting our air and water. So it's significant,” Whitman said.

But Whitman says protecting our air and water quality will always be a top priority, and is one the Oregon Legislature is protecting.

“The Oregon Legislature has been very supportive of that work. So for the moment, we have significant state funding for that program,” Whitman said.

Whitman also says Gov. Kate Brown has vowed to do what she can to protect Oregon’s air, land and water.

The budget is currently only in proposal stages, so Whitman says he won’t know for sure how the budget will affect Oregon DEQ until fall.

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