EPA seeking tougher water quality rules for Washington

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Wednesday, September 2, 2015 4:44pm
  • Local News

Federal regulators aren’t waiting any longer for Washington to update its water quality standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it is moving ahead to impose tougher rules for discharging pollutants into the state’s waterway.

A proposed rule will be published this month. Then there will be 60 days of public comment and months in which officials review and respond to those comment before any changes would take effect.

But EPA officials know the state has spent several years working on drafting its own clean water rules without success. So if state officials launch another effort soon, the EPA is prepared to take a timeout in its work.

“We have made clear our preference was and continues to be for the state of Washington to develop its own standards,” said Dan Opalski, director of the EPA’s regional office of water and watersheds. “If they come forward with a new proposal we would pause our process.”

Gov. Jay Inslee opened the door for federal intervention in July when he scrapped a major rewrite of the state’s clean water rules drafted by the Department of Ecology. He directed the agency to reassess its approach.

Wednesday’s announcement didn’t surprise officials in the governor’s office and at ecology where conversations continue on their next step.

“EPA is following through on what it said it would do,” said Sandi Peck, a spokeswoman for the ecology department. “We will begin reviewing EPA’s full draft rule right away, and it will help inform our decision on how we move forward.”

It may not be too hard a decision as the feds appear to be pushing for more stringent rules than what the state nearly adopted.

Federal law requires rivers and other major bodies of water must be clean enough so people can safely eat fish from those waters. Since 1992, the state has assumed that people consume about 6.5 grams of fish a day, which is about a quarter of an ounce.

The EPA will propose to hike the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day. The higher the number means fewer toxic chemicals would be permitted for discharge into state waters. And the agency will leave intact Washington’s cancer-risk rate.

Inslee’s proposal had the same 175 grams a day fish consumption rate but sought to apply different cancer-risk rates to different chemicals. He said his plan would not negatively impact any existing business in the state – a claim that EPA officials are not making about the proposed federal rule.

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