Unions denounce water quality regulations that don’t exist yet

OLYMPIA — Union leaders representing Boeing machinists and mill workers don’t know how Gov. Jay Inslee might change water quality rules based on how much fish people eat.

But that didn’t stop them Monday from warning that it’ll be bad, it will cost jobs and they don’t like it.

“We want clean water but we believe this is just too extreme,” Greg Pallesen, international vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said at a news conference. “We can have great intentions on this stuff but the extreme (policy) will have a negative impact on jobs.”

Labor leaders carried out their pre-emptive attack on the unreleased policy in the official state reception room in the Capitol — one floor above the governor’s office.

Mark Johnson, aerospace coordinator of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, led the way. Workers want to separate “fact from fiction” on the fish consumption issue and “see if we can turn the government around on this issue,” he said.

Yet he and the other participants couldn’t provide many facts about the doom they predicted or specific objections to the course Inslee and the Department of Ecology are taking.

With Inslee expected to reveal his proposal soon, Johnson said the unions wanted to publicize their concerns about the aerospace and pulp mill jobs that would be lost if companies such as Boeing and Weyerhaeuser cannot comply.

Inslee administration officials attending the news conference could barely conceal their pique.

At one point David Postman, Inslee’s communications director and a former newspaper reporter, asked labor leaders what they opposed in the governor’s unreleased proposal.

Afterward, his frustration was still apparent as he apologized for posing the question.

“I’m sort of mystified. They are reacting to something as if it exists. It doesn’t exist,” he said. “They don’t know what the governor is considering. You’ll find out as soon as it’s done. He’s been consistent about not talking publicly about it for this reason. It is complicated.”

Environmental groups and tribes are pressing for tougher water quality standards based on a higher estimated rate of fish consumption by people. A higher number for fish consumption would means that fewer toxic pollutants would be allowed in waters.

Last year, conservation and commercial fishing groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to make Washington increase the fish consumption rate and impose stricter anti-pollution standards.

Washington now assumes an average fish consumption of roughly one 8-ounce fillet per person, per month. Actual fish consumption rates in the state are higher in certain populations, such as American Indians.

The state Department of Ecology has pondered a change for more than two years and is said to be considering a fish consumption rate between 125 and 225 grams of fish per day. Oregon’s rate is 175 grams a day, the highest of any state.

Unions, businesses such as Boeing and cities such as Everett worry that a big increase in the rate will establish a standard for water emissions that can’t be achieved.

On Monday, labor leaders said additional studies and negotiations are needed before proceeding. They apparently were unaware that their colleagues have suggested many other paths in regular correspondence with the governor, most recently in May.

“We’ve known that they have concerns,” said Ted Sturdevant, Inslee’s legislative and policy director.

While there are no “hard deadliness” for a decision, he said, “Everybody knows that decision time is coming. Everybody knows it’s crunch time.

“We will get something out as soon as we can but we don’t want to rush this,” he said Monday.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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