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EPA and Art Glass

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Uroboros Art Glass, Portland, OR – front entry.

This has been a year of strife, upheaval, uncertainty and dismay, but I’m looking forward to the holidays and some time to reflect. With the presidential race claiming almost every headline, it’s been hard to think, let alone figure out the next steps. I am talking about my corner of the glass industry, which has been reeling from serious regulatory changes.

This arrived on my radar back in February, when I read a blog (masquerading as a news outlet) regarding the air quality in an area near two glass manufacturers in Portland, OR. It quickly escalated. The DEQ (Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality) forced both Uroboros and Bullseye Glass to severely limit glass production. Then the EPA became involved, investigating every glass manufacturer in the USA. In short, they changed the rules regarding how the regulations apply to art glass manufacturers and required immediate compliance. This series of articles lays out the facts quite well.

While I am all for the EPA protecting our environment, and agree that this is something that slipped through a few LEGAL loopholes, I disagree with summarily eliminating them and forcing small companies to spend millions or close. If this had been the oil or energy industry, they would be given years to upgrade their equipment and likely government subsidies and tax breaks to boot. Considerations not available for the small family owned businesses that don’t have the capital, lobbyists, or clout to fight back.

The cause and effect of this is HUGE. Two art glass manufacturers closed: Spectrum Art Glass was the first to fall in May; Uroboros Art Glass will completely close in early 2017. And now J. Ring Art Glass, my only local wholesale supplier in the Twin Cities, is closing their doors this November – the next closest large supplier is now in Chicago. Or the internet, incurring high shipping costs, a high risk of breakage, and no ability to personally pick a particular sheet for a special swirl or color mix.

This summer glass prices jumped between 12-20%, because the companies staying in business have to put millions into equipment upgrades to comply with the new EPA standards. Until those emission controls are functioning, production is very limited. There are still colors and styles that can’t be produced because of the DEQ/EPA limits of production. Glass friends are wondering if it is even worth continuing, and in the darker moments I wonder the same thing. A few small shops I know have said they plan on closing because they simply can’t afford the price increases; others are forced to raise prices to cover costs. I have commissions on hold because I can’t yet get the glass and others need to be redesigned to use a different color or glass style. I will also lose any profit margin because of the increased material costs.

Going forward, positive things ARE happening.

Spectrum Art Glass was sold and will eventually be starting production again (in Mexico). I hope something similar happens with Uroboros. The glass community is commiserating, making plans to pool our resources for ordering materials, and maybe even plan a road trip to Chicago. Artistically I may change what has become my signature style, tweaking my ideas and creativity to work with new materials within a more limited palette. But this is something that I have always loved – pushing against perceived constraints. Meanwhile, I have glass to use and art to create.