Tribes reject Inslee’s water quality plan, will ask EPA to act

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Friday, September 5, 2014 2:43pm
  • Local News

An alliance of tribes is rejecting Gov. Jay Inslee’s approach to revising the state’s water quality standards and will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to enact new rules for Washington.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission sent Inslee a letter on Thursday in which members express their “dissatisfaction” with a proposal they say won’t change the status quo.

“The tribes’ principal objective for revised water quality standards is to protect the health of future generations, and we have determined that your proposal does not meet this goal,” reads the letter.

Tribal leaders will meet Monday with Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the state must adopt standards that ensure rivers and major bodies of water are clean enough to support fish that are safe for humans to eat.

Since 1992, the state has operated under a rule that assumed the average amount of fish eaten each day is 6.5 grams which is about a quarter of an ounce per day.

Inslee’s proposal unveiled July 9 would increase the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day — a figure tribal leaders accept. The higher the number means fewer toxic pollutants would be allowed in waters.

But fish consumption is only one part of the regulatory equation. Another is the cancer risk rate and Inslee wants to apply different rates to different chemicals, something no other state now does and may not pass muster with the federal government.

Currently, state law assumes no more than one person out of 1 million will get cancer eating fish caught in Washington waters.

Inslee wants to apply that rate for some of the 96 chemicals regulated under the federal law but use a lower rate of one in 100,000 people for others. That would effectively crack down on some chemicals but not all of them.

“It is incomprehensible that the state would consider changing the cancer risk rate in state standards to a rate that is ten times less protective,” the letter reads. “Essentially, the proposal modifies the fish consumption rate to reflect higher levels of consumption in our state, but trades this improvement for a less protective cancer risk rate.”

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