The Environmental Opportunities, and Challenges, Coming in the New Year


Richard Whitman, Director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, reflects on what’s to come in 2020

SALEM — As we enter a new year and new decade, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in public service, and the environmental challenges and opportunities coming our way in 2020.

When political leaders deride climate change as a “hoax” and push to roll back or undercut hard-won gains in air, land and water quality, it can be dispiriting. To me, however, these actions are reminders of how important our role in state government is in ensuring a safe and healthy future for Oregonians.

One of our strengths at the Department of Environmental Quality is that we base our decisions on scientific evidence. We test. We analyze. We study trends. We know what is in the water when we set pollution limits. We’re on the scene quickly after spills occur. We know what’s in the air when wildfires rage. And we know what we are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions – and how we can reduce those emissions to make this world safer for our children and their children.

Our reliance on science and evidence, and the expertise we bring, gives us a responsibility to be a “reliable narrator,” to use a literary phrase, in what has become a highly polarized and volatile debate over environmental issues, both in Oregon and nationally. As such, DEQ must be an active and leading voice in helping society grapple with complex problems, requiring a careful balancing of sometimes conflicting goals.

My resolution for 2020 is that DEQ continues to build public trust in our capacity to this critical work of protecting our state’s people and this beautiful place we call home. I’m glad, and proud, to have such a strong team behind me.

About Author

Richard Whitman is the director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

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