Gregory Sotir, Cully Air Action Team 

Strategy: regulating the regulators

As part of the Cully Air Action Team [CAAT], Gregory Sotir will be the first to tell you that the Cully neighborhood is one of the most diverse areas this side of 82nd Avenue, and also burdened by an unfair share of Portland’s polluting industries. Gregory and his team work to effect change towards cleaner air through any avenue available, and oftentimes that has meant, as he puts it, “putting a fire under DEQ’s butt.” He emphasizes it’s not that regulatory agencies like DEQ have ill-intentions; it’s that they have strong mandates on paper but no budget to back it up. More often than not, they are simply stretched thin. 

Legislators do listen, but you have to raise your voice, they have to be able to hear you.”

CAAT started as an ad hoc group of Cully-area neighbors who were concerned with the toxic emissions coming from a neighborhood industrial plant that was filling their corner of Northeast Portland with noxious odors. After receiving an inadequate response to their complaint from DEQ, the group joined forces with others in the neighborhood to apply pressure to the company directly.

While DEQ did ultimately give the company a very modest fine for a permitting violation, the bigger victory was that the company, bowing to neighborhood pressure, voluntarily put a filtration device on their machines, which addressed the problem. The lesson here was twofold: many industries genuinely want to be a part of the community and are willing to negotiate; and also, sometimes you have to push your regulators to enforce the law.

— by Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer