Interview with OBI Air Steering Committee Co-Chair Tom Wood

Published Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Committee chairs play an important role at Oregon Business & Industry (OBI), helping members collaborate and develop policy positions. We recently sat down with Tom Wood, an attorney at Stoel Rives and co-chair of the OBI Air Steering Committee. Here is the interview with Tom. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been active on air-related issues for a long time. When and why did you first become involved in these issues?
I first became active in Associated Oregon industries (AOI) in early 1990s as the new Title 5 air permit program was coming along by helping another Stoel Rives attorney who was involved with AOI and air issues. AOI was as the forefront of negotiating and helping businesses deal with the Title 5 program. Their efforts helped a broad swatch of manufacturers deal with the changes.

What motivates you to be so involved in OBI and air-related issues?
Air permitting has become such a critical part of manufacturing. It’s been mutually beneficial for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon industry that we’ve been able to keep a dialog going through AOI/OBI. It’s important to maintain a collaborative effort, understanding each other’s views, between trade associations and regulators.

The Cleaner Air Oregon rulemaking process is near its end. What are the most important things businesses need to know as they prepare to implement the new rules?
This will be a different level and type of public and agency engagement that potentially could limit the flexibility manufacturers had in the past to make changes in operations. The new rules look at pollutants and the manufacturing facility in a different way. There will be more permits, more rules that are more tightly defined and complicated. Air rules already were pretty obtuse. As a result, it will be harder to compete with manufacturers in other states and overseas.

What issues other than the Cleaner Air Oregon rules are you focused on in your work protecting industry?
Greenhouse gas regulation, and specifically the proposed cap-and-trade program. In particular, will it address the concerns giving rise to the program and will it regulate in a way that provides an overall benefit to the environment? The goal is to address the problem without a lot of collateral damage. There is a concern that the issue has gotten so emotional that it’s hard to have the give-and-take needed to reach that type of solution.

How have you seen the regulatory environment change over time?
In both regulation and legislation, we’re going toward more and more. Sometimes legislation or regulation goes beyond the core issues and ends up wrapping in more of the manufacturing sector than is necessary. Also, there’s a forgetfulness about the disparity in business success between Portland and the rest of the state.
What could be done to improve the regulatory climate?
It would be beneficial for everyone to step back and look at how much we have accomplished. We’ve gotten dramatically better. That gets lost in the discussion.

How can businesses help each other as they adapt to these issues?
That’s a place where OBI becomes so important by helping businesses to cross-fertilize – getting together and sharing information in a comfortable, free-flowing environment. Also, getting folks educated about what is happening – and what is not happening – and avoiding demonizing the agencies is important.

Talk a little bit about how the committee operates and how you help OBI decide what positions to take?
The committee has been open to anyone in the association who has any interest in air. Our focus had been predominantly on the regulatory process. We work really hard on determining what members need and how to negotiate rules that reflect those needs.

What has been your greatest accomplishment as co-chair of the AOI/OBI committee over time?
Working with all the committee people. We just have an amazing array of talent within industry and the consulting community. Also, I’ve worked with a great generation of people within in DEQ. My job mostly has been bringing people together, channeling that energy.

What has been your greatest challenge as the co-chair?
Maintaining a communication channel between DEQ and the regulated community – especially during the four or five years, which ended recently, when there wasn’t anyone directly in charge of the air program because of restructuring.

What gives you optimism about OBI’s ability to help regulators develop air policies that protect the environment and allow Oregon companies, especially manufacturers, to remain competitive?
Even with all the crazy tension in politics nationally, and even some tension here in Oregon, I think we still are a state of people who like to work together toward a common goal, which is preserving this beautiful place in which we live.