Q: When will the DEQ Dry Cleaner Program officially end?
A: The program will sunset (end) on Jan. 1, 2024.
Q: When will DEQ stop collecting fees associated with the program?
A: No fees would are due after Dec. 31, 2023.
Q: Are there examples of other state dry cleaner programs that have sunset?
A: Yes, there are.
Missouri Dry Cleaner Program: The state of Missouri's dry cleaner program started in 2000. There were 375 dry cleaners using chlorinated solvents, which trickled down to 104. Missouri's dry cleaner program could not continue without revising the fee structure. Missouri did not receive enough support by the dry cleaning industry to revise the fee structure and its program sunset in August 2017. Many dry cleaners had gone out of business, consolidated, or switched to non-chlorinated solvents. The original sunset date in statute was extended to 2012 and again in 2017 when the program sunset. Missouri did not have liability protections comparable to the Oregon program. Protection only applied after enrolling in the cleanup. Dry cleaner sites that wanted to continue could elect to enroll in their Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program with no reimbursement of cleanup costs. Over life of the program, the Drycleaning Environmental Response Trust (DERT) Fund had 42 sites to enroll for reimbursement for cleanup (with a $25,000 deductible). They had to pay for the cleanup first and then ask for reimbursement. Reimbursement was based on priority ranking and over the last several years, reimbursement costs could not be guaranteed due to declining revenues. Other states, including North Carolina and Florida, have had problems with collecting fee revenue.
Minnesota Dry Cleaner Program: The Minnesota Legislature, working with the dry cleaners' trade association (the Minnesota Cleaners Association) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) established the Dry Cleaner Fund in 1995. The law provided a means to reimburse dry cleaner owners and operators for the cost of cleanup of soil, groundwater and soil vapor resulting from dry cleaning activities. Under the Dry Cleaner Fund, most dry cleaning facilities that provided services to the general public may apply for reimbursement for their investigation and cleanup work. Money in the fund comes from annual registration fees paid by dry cleaning facilities, as well as fees on dry cleaning solvents.
Minnesota requires dry cleaners to collectively pay $650,000 to the state each year to cover cleanup projects. But under existing law, they have the same chance of receiving funding as property owners who lease to dry cleaners. Those property owners aren't required to pay into the fund. With fewer dry cleaners in operation than when the law was passed in 1995, available funds have dwindled. Meanwhile, property owners have continued requesting tens of thousands of dollars for cleanup projects.
In March of 2021, a bill passed into law banning perc in 2026 and prioritizing Minnesota dry cleaners for access to the state Dry Cleaner Fund for environmental cleanup projects. The law appropriated $213,000 from the Dry Cleaner Fund to pay dry cleaner owners and operators for cleanup projects. It also uses $355,000 in unspent funds from another Pollution Control Agency account for a cost-share program to reimburse dry cleaners for the costs of transitioning away from perchloroethylene. The program, which includes funding of up to $20,000 per project, is now accepting applications until all funds have been awarded or Jan. 31, 2024, whichever comes first.
Q: How does sunsetting the DEQ Dry Cleaner Program compare to other states?
A: Most state dry cleaner programs are running into funding issues similar to those experienced by the Oregon program. State programs vary considerably in their details. Unlike Oregon, other state programs do not provide the same liability protections as the Oregon program. By sunsetting the program, Oregon is moving in the direction of most other states.
Q: What happens to liability protection?
A: Liability for any release of dry cleaning solvent from a dry cleaning facility is determined as provided by ORS 465.255. This law defines persons strictly liable for remedial action costs and for injury to, or destruction of, natural resources attributable to or associated with a release of hazardous substances. Essentially, liability for releases of dry cleaning solvents from dry cleaning facilities will revert to how it was prior to the existence of the Dry Cleaner Program and will be treated the same as liability for the release of any other hazardous substance from any other property or industry.
Q: How does the liability of the operator compare to that of the property owner?
A: ORS 465.255 states that the following persons are strictly liable for remedial action costs and natural resource damages that are cause by a release of hazardous substances:
- Any owner or operator at or during the time of the acts or omissions that resulted in the release.
- Any owner or operator who became the owner or operator after the time of the acts or omissions that resulted in the release, and who knew or reasonably should have known of the release when the person first became the owner or operator.
- Any owner or operator who obtained actual knowledge of the release at the facility during the time the person was the owner or operator of the facility and then subsequently transferred ownership or operation of the facility to another person without disclosing such knowledge.
- Any person who, by any acts or omissions, caused, contributed to or exacerbated the release, unless the acts or omissions were in material compliance with applicable laws, standards, regulations, licenses or permits.
- Any person who unlawfully hinders or delays entry to, investigation of or removal or remedial action at a facility.
Where multiple persons are responsible under ORS 465.255, including potentially both an owner and an operator, all parties will generally be considered “jointly and severally liable" for the remediation costs. That means in most instances all responsible parties are liable for the complete costs of cleanup.
Under ORS 465.257 responsible parties are entitled to “contribution" from other responsible parties. That means that if one responsible party pays remedial costs it can recover a fair amount (anywhere from 0 to 100%, depending on the circumstances) from other responsible parties. A court would determine the relative responsibility of the various responsible parties vis-à-vis each other based on the “equitable factors" listed in ORS 465.257.
Q: As a landlord paying into the program for future liability, what does sunsetting of the program mean for future liability?
A: As long as the program is ongoing and you are paying into the program, you have liability protection. When the program sunsets, a landlord will no longer pay into the program and liability protection will sunset with the program
Q: Was there anything in the bill to extend liability protection?
Q: It is possible that the legislature could provide funding to keep the program going regardless of the governor's budget?
A: Yes, this is possible. We encourage those who support this to reach out to their elected officials.
Q: If the legislature provided funding, how much funding would be needed to continue the program?
A: A large sum. The current statute states that a balance of $1 million is the goal for the Environmental Response Account. The current account balance is alarmingly low and there is no money in the fund that is not already encumbered for ongoing administrative costs, inspections, and cleanups.
Q: The bill states, “The Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Account established under ORS 465.510 is abolished on January 1, 2025. Any moneys remaining in the account on January 1, 2025, that are unexpended, unobligated and not subject to any conditions shall be transferred to the General Fund and made available for general governmental purposes." Why are these funds not being used for cleanups of contaminated dry cleaning site?
A: We anticipate a zero balance, or near zero balance, when the program ends. This language is standard and was included in the bill to ensure a clean closeout of the account.
Q: What is the average cost of a cleanup?
A: The cost varies, and each cleanup is very different. Over the course of the program, over 50 cleanups have been completed with approximately $8.4 million spent.
Q: How many cleanup sites are there now and how much will it cost to clean these up?
A: There are seven ongoing cleanup sites remaining. Cost to close these sites is currently estimated at $742,500, though this figure is likely to change as site investigation and remediation work continues.
Q: How many dry cleaner sites may be contaminated?
A: Every site that has ever used perc has the potential to be contaminated, and there are several hundred across the state.
Q: Will DEQ start requiring site assessments after the program sunsets?
A: DEQ will rely on its usual procedures under ORS Chapter 465, Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Materials I, to determine whether any site assessment is necessary.
Q: What happens to sites that applied (paid a deductible) for funding under the dry cleaning program and are still on a waiting list?
A: Any sites that have applied and paid an initial fee will have that fee returned. No additional cleanups are being accepted.
Q: What happens to the active cleanup up projects?
A: DEQ is striving to complete the 7 active DCP cleanup projects with the funds remaining in the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Account and fees collected through 2023, less DEQ program administration costs and refunds of deductibles for sites that will not be addressed by the program.
Projects with longer-term cleanup or with engineering controls will transition to the owner/operators for completion subject to their ability to pay or to any defenses pursuant to ORS 465.255, strict liability for remedial action costs for injury or destruction of natural resource. The remaining dry cleaner facilities with historical releases would be cleaned up under the same process as other contaminated industrial or commercial facilities through liable party funding.
Q: What about completed cleanup sites with controls?
A: These sites become a due care obligation of the current owner/operator.
Q: What happens to a dry cleaning facility that has paid into the program through the years and needs a cleanup in the future?
A: A facility is subject to the standard requirements of ORS Chapter 465, Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Materials I. DEQ offers three pathways for review and approval of cleanups conducted by property owners or site operators: Independent Cleanup, Voluntary Cleanup, and Site Response.
Independent and Voluntary Cleanup are for property owners who decide to clean up their property. The difference is that Voluntary Cleanup program sites are typically more complex and require more DEQ oversight than Independent Cleanup sites. In the Site Response program, DEQ requires cleanup through orders, and potentially enforcement actions, for high environmental priority sites. A Prospective Purchaser Agreement may also be a tool used as a mechanism to transfer ownership of property without transferring liability.
Q: Are there other alternatives, such as insurance, available?
A: There may be insurance coverage options available, but the guarantee of available coverage is not within DEQ's authority. In June 2004, the legislature enacted a new law requiring all dry cleaning operators and owners to investigate whether historical or current insurance policies were available to help fund cleanup work.
Q: Why prohibit perc?
A: Perc poses risks to worker health, public health, animal health and the environment. It can get into soil and groundwater, and from there into drinking water and/or the air in neighboring buildings. If spilled or released to the environment, perc is very difficult and expensive to clean up. In their 2020 final risk evaluation of perc, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found unreasonable risk to workers, occupational non-users, consumers and bystanders. The full report is here.
Q: Moving to anything besides perc is expensive. Is DEQ going to pay for dry cleaners to do that?
A. No. The original legislative concept included a request for funds to help dry cleaners that still use perc to purchase non-perc equipment through a limited term reimbursement program. That funding is not included in the governor's budget, and so this piece was removed.
Q: Why prohibit n-propyl bromide?
A: Like perc, n-propyl bromide poses risks worker health, public health, animal health and the environment. Workers exposed to higher levels of this solvent for weeks, months, or years have experienced severe effects requiring hospitalization, including incoordination, weakness, loss of feeling, inability to walk, and damage to nerves. Damage to the nervous system may not be reversible, resulting in long-term effects even after exposure is stopped. EPA's risk evaluation is here.
Q: Divisions 210 and 216 require air permits for facilities using perc. Will the permit requirement stop for dry cleaning facilities once perc is no longer used?
Q: What happens to inspections and technical assistance?
A: Currently, dry cleaners using perc are required to have a General Air Contaminant Discharge permit (NESHAP requirements) and are inspected by DEQ air quality staff every five (5) years. Technical assistance is available to perc dry cleaners via the Hazardous Waste Program, and for air quality related issues, through the Air Quality Program. Once the perc ban is in effect, ACDP permits will be revoked and dry cleaners will no longer have access to air quality technical assistance and will no longer be subject to air quality inspections. However, they will have access to Hazardous Waste technical assistance and will be subject to inspection by Hazardous Waste compliance inspectors.
Q: Will emissions from hydrocarbon dry cleaning solvents be regulated?
A: There is no requirement currently and we are not aware of plans to in the near future to regulate hydrocarbon solvent emissions for dry cleaners.