BELLINGHAM — Bellingham City Council is considering asking the state for tighter pollution rules protecting water and the fish people eat.
On Monday, March 23, the council will discuss signing a letter to the Department of Ecology that would request tighter water quality standards than what the department is currently proposing as part of a years-long update process.
That would go against the grain of many other cities around the state that support the plan from Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee as a compromise on health standards and strict pollution guidelines that affect wastewater treatment plants.
Ecology is looking at increasing the average amount of fish that state rules assume each person eats from 6.5 grams per day, about one 7-ounce meal per month, to 175 grams per day, about 6 ounces per day, to closer match the amount of fish folks in the Pacific Northwest actually eat.
Raising that number would mean more stringent controls on pollution, because if people are eating more fish, they could be consuming more toxins.
Under the proposal, Ecology also would lower the acceptable risk of getting cancer from the current rate of one in 1 million if someone were to eat the average amount every day for 70 years, to one in 100,000 for many of the toxins.
Those two measures fall under the umbrella of what are called human health criteria, which dictate exactly how much pollution is allowed into the state’s waterways. The current levels were set in a 1992 federal rule applying to 14 states that had failed to meet the requirements of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
For some, including Bellingham City Council members Roxanne Murphy and Michael Lilliquist, lowering the cancer risk rate seems like taking a step backwards.
“Primarily my concern is that Native Americans and Asian communities, for example, can often consume 10 times the amount of seafood that other communities might take in,” Murphy said. “I really want to bring light to how a higher cancer risk will affect everybody. I don’t think it’s the right approach for everybody’s well being.”
Lilliquist said the state shouldn’t downsize the cancer guidelines currently in place, even though it might cost more.
“There’s been some resistance to tighten the rules from city governments,” Lilliquist said. “No one’s against clean water, but if we have to redo all of our stormwater drains, prevent more water pollution, it would be quite expensive. My hope is that state officials will see that strong water quality standards are not up for debate.”
Even with lowering the cancer risk tenfold, the new standards would be more protective for about 70 percent of toxins, and in cases where it would be less protective, the state will maintain the stricter standard, as explained in a policy brief from the governor’s office.
Still, increasing the acceptable risk rate above the current one in 1 million is shocking to Dr. Frank James, medical officer for the Nooksack Indian Tribe, health officer for San Juan County and an assistant professor of public health at University of Washington.
“I think if the public understood, maybe they wouldn’t agree that that’s a good idea,” James said. “It’s the most common standard in federal regulation and in all state regulation. Us varying from that is a very odd thing.”
Council will consider signing its letter and submitting it on the last day Ecology is taking public comment on the proposed rule.
A draft of the letter states that the council is in support of the governor’s comprehensive approach to improving water quality, but there are concerns about loosening the allowable cancer risk rate.
The letter also states that Bellingham council is aware that stronger standards will make it harder for the city to comply with pollution and stormwater controls, and that serious conversations about financial assistance are needed at the state level.
Those concerns are part of the reason the Association of Washington Cities, a nonprofit that lobbies for Washington cities and towns at the state level, supports the compromise presented by the governor.
Carl Schroeder, government relations advocate for the association, said it has looked at the issue and worked with the governor’s office and Ecology to set achievable goals.
The concern for some toxins is that changing the standards to a rate lower than what is already found in the waters of the state would mean that anyone discharging into that water, such as a municipal wastewater treatment plant, would need to meet the “ultra low standard right at the end of the pipe,” Schroeder said. The technology doesn’t exist to meet some of those low rates, he said.
“If you put a new standard out there that ratchets it down, and there’s no technology to do it, you drive a bunch of expense and utility rates go through the roof to put on the newest technology that doesn’t even meet the standard,” Schroeder said. “That’s been addressed largely on this risk rate discussion, which does increase the protections for 70 percent of the toxins. It doesn’t roll anything back, it just moderates the stringency.”
Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/03/21/4197262_bellingham-council-could-weigh.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the cancer risk rate used to set state water quality standards from one in one million to one in 100,000. That is unacceptable to the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. We refuse to accept this tenfold increase in the risk of getting cancer from known cancer-causing toxins, and you should, too.
The cancer risk rate, along with the fish consumption rate, are key factors in determining how clean our waters must be to protect our health. The more fish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.
Water quality standards are supposed to protect those who need protection the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen, and anyone else who eats local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating the standards as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.
Under his plan, Inslee would correctly increase the fish consumption rate from a ridiculously low 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same protective rate as Oregon’s. But he would effectively cancel out that improvement by decreasing our protection under the cancer risk rate.
Further complicating matters, Inslee ties development of the new state water quality standards to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction program that will require legislative approval. That is unlikely given the $2 billion state budget shortfall.
Inslee’s proposal would also require the Legislature to grant the Department of Ecology more authority to regulate toxic chemicals. That is also highly unlikely given the Legislature’s historic reluctance to grant Ecology more power to control chemicals in our environment.
The plan also calls for revising standards for 167 chemicals that the Clean Water Act requires states to monitor in our lakes, rivers and marine waters. But standards for 58 of those – including cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and PCBs – will stay the same.
At its core, Inslee’s plan does more to preserve the status quo than result in any real improvement to our water quality standards. It is a political solution to a human health issue. The concept of a larger toxics reduction program to tackle pollutants at the source is a good one, but it is not an acceptable substitute for strong water quality rules. We should have both.
We know that Inslee and previous governors have struggled with updating the state’s water quality rules for decades because of complaints by industry that new water quality rules could increase their cost of doing business. But an economy built on pollution cannot be sustained.
Fortunately, at the request of the tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it will step in to develop new standards this year if the state is unable.
EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran announced in December that the agency will keep a close eye on the progress – or lack of progress – of the state’s effort to update our water quality standards. The agency has begun a rulemaking process in parallel with the state effort now under way. If the state develops standards acceptable to EPA, the agency will pause and work with the state to finalize the new standards. If the state is unable, EPA will continue its process and adopt new standards for the state.
This promise by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Regional Administrator McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here.
We appreciate EPA’s willingness to protect the integrity of our state’s environment and water-based resources that are central to human health and treaty rights. We hope the state will step up before EPA has to step in to make sure our water quality standards protect all of us.
Some tribal leaders and environmental groups say a water-pollution cleanup plan proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee this month is unacceptable because while it tightens the standards on some chemicals discharged to state waters, it keeps the status quo for others.
Inslee is drafting a two-part initiative to update state water-quality standards, to more accurately reflect how much fish people eat, and to propose legislation to attack water pollution at its source. The fish-consumption standards have the effect of setting levels for pollutants in water: The more fish people are assumed to eat, the lower the amount of pollution allowed.
Inslee decided that lowering some standards wouldn’t create a big-enough benefit to human health to justify the economic risk for businesses, said Kelly Susewind, water-quality program manager for the state Department of Ecology.
“The realistic gains on the ground didn’t warrant that concern and disincentive to invest in our state,” Susewind said.
That’s because the rules regulate state permits for dischargers, such as industrial manufacturers and wastewater-treatment plants — but that isn’t where most of the pollution is coming from.
Setting tougher standards for some pollutants would also result in levels too low to detect or manage with existing technology — but would create a regulatory expectation that could cloud future business investment, Susewind said.
“The concern is that we set in motion a chain of events where it is inevitable they can’t comply. If they are worried they will cease to invest in 30 years, they are not going to invest today; that is the long-term picture that caused the uncertainty.”
In the case of PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, industrial chemicals used as coolants, insulating materials, and lubricants in electric equipment — setting a limit below the existing limit of 170 parts per quadrillion wouldn’t improve people’s health, Susewind said. That’s because most PCBs are entering waterways from other sources, including runoff. “It is not the most effective place, to put the pinch on dischargers,” Susewind said.
The problem is that the Clean Water Act, under which the standards are issued, doesn’t reach beyond so-called point sources: pollution in water discharged from pipes by industries and others regulated by Ecology and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“A lot of our challenge is finding ourselves with only one tool,” said Carol Kraege, who leads toxics reduction at Ecology. “Getting toxics out of our water with just the Clean Water Act is not enough.”
To gain new tools to clean up state waters, Inslee has asked Ecology to put together legislation to expand its authority to ban certain chemicals, to keep them from getting in the water in the first place. The legislation, which is still being drafted, is intended to address so-called non-point sources of pollution.
The governor has said he won’t submit a final water-quality rule to the EPA for approval until after the legislature acts.
Christie True, director of King County Natural Resources and Parks, which runs the county’s wastewater-treatment plants, said she was encouraged by the governor’s approach. “We have to be focused on outcomes,” True said.
“The thing I was really happy about was he said we can’t just rely on regulating the same old sources if we want to improve water quality. I know it is going to be very challenging to take these issues to the Legislature, but that is where we need to head to have a better outcome.”
The debate now under way arose from the state’s need to update the water-quality standards that address health effects for humans from eating fish. The state’s rules today assume a level of consumption so low — 6.5 grams a day, really just a bite — that it is widely understood to be inadequately protective, especially for tribes and others who eat a lot of fish from local waters.
The standard also incorporates an incremental increase in cancer risk in that level of consumption.
Inslee has proposed greatly increasing the fish-consumption standard in the new rule, to 175 grams per day, a little less than a standard dinner serving. But he also upped the cancer risk, from 1 in 1 million under current law, to 1 in 100,000 in the new standard. That was to avoid imposing tighter standards for some pollutants.
That isn’t good enough for tribal leaders who say they want tougher protection now — for all pollutants, not just some. “Holding the line isn’t good enough,” said Dianne Barton, water-quality coordinator for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
Counting on the Legislature to grant new authority to Ecology and money to back it up is also a shaky proposition, some said. “That is a big gamble,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper, a nonprofit environmental group that sued the EPA to force Washington to update its standards. Delay, meanwhile, “is more business as usual,” Wilke said.
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Association of Washington Tribes and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said tribes are going to take their case directly to the feds both at Region 10 EPA and in the EPA administrator’s office in Washington, D.C., and insist no change be made in the cancer risk.
“In our minds, the bar hasn’t moved that much,” Cladoosby said. “It took 100 years to screw up the Salish Sea; hopefully, it won’t take another 100 years to clean it up. But we have to start somewhere.”
Puget Sound is one of the iconic wonders of the world and defines who we are, not only as tribes, but all residents of Western Washington.
This great body of water was still being formed by receding glaciers when the tribes arrived, and we have lived off her abundant natural resources ever since. Over thousands of years our beautiful and unique inland sea has become a complex ecosystem, supporting not only an abundance of sea life, but also mixing with freshwater resources at the mouths of our great rivers, providing a consistent and plentiful food source for us humans.
This natural resource wealth has influenced every part of our tribal traditions. Stories of the great salmon runs have been carried down through the generations, and they tell us these waters once rippled with silver, as salmon arrived home after several years out to sea. The clams, crab and mussels were also abundant, and along with berries, roots and the plants we harvested, our traditional diet was, and continues to be, sacred to us.
The old Indians used to say, “When the tide is out, the table is set!”
For more than 200 years the descendants of the settlers, and now peoples from around the globe, have called the Puget Sound home. Like the tribes, they have lived off her rich resources, appreciated her great beauty and passed laws to protect her from exploitation.
Today, however, the health of Puget Sound is failing fast. In recent years it has lost 20 percent, or more, of the plankton that makes up the base of our food web. Everything above plankton in the food chain is also affected and is showing signs of great stress. The loss of plankton is beyond comprehension and is the single greatest barometer of what is happening to the waters we have all largely taken for granted.
It is time the citizens of Washington, and in particular citizens of Puget Sound, act on this information. With plankton gone, it means every animal up the food chain pays the price, including us.
Mark my words: Puget Sound is dying! Finding whales dying from natural causes is expected. Finding whales that are emaciated and starving is alarming and will become a common scenario if we do not address the problem quickly. But what is happening; why are plankton dying? We are only beginning to understand the complex interactions between warming ocean waters, how they affect the state’s inland sea, and how human activities play into this alarming situation.
Toxins in the food chain are devastating from the bottom all the way up. Recent evidence suggests that nutrient pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, residential homes, agriculture and other sources, are significantly disrupting the food web in Puget Sound. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that the sound is the baseline of our livelihoods and that we humans are only as healthy as our environment.
The great waters and rivers of the Salish Sea have existed since the last ice age (13,000 years ago) and with the melting of the ice the Puget Sound was born. Mother Nature has created this beautiful place we call home, and in less than 200 years, and largely within the last 100 years, we have managed to undo what Mother Nature provided us.
How many more years will it take to entirely wipe out sea life in Puget Sound? Can she sustain the barrage of pollutants that are killing the plankton for another 50 years? Do we have another 25 years to act before reaching the tipping point, or have we already arrived? Our window of opportunity to heal her is closing. It is our duty to do all that we can to improve her health and time is not on our side.
The Tulalip Tribes have collaborated with governments, nonprofits, and other entities on a variety of habitat restoration projects, on and off reservation, and we continue to lobby for the protection of Puget Sound. One project that we feel very proud to be a part of is Qualco Energy. Partnering with farmers and environment groups in the Snohomish River basin we have worked together to build an anaerobic digester, which channels cow manure away from streams and fresh groundwater sources by converting it to electricity before it is sold to the electricity grid. It is an example of the type of collaboration it will take to restore the health of our Sound.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced his proposal this week to address the issue of fish consumption that has large implications for our health and water quality standards. Gov. Inslee’s proposal begins to address Puget Sound’s health but not to the level that we had hoped. While the proposed rate of fish consumption is significantly higher, his proposal also increases the risk of cancer deaths by some toxins. The governor’s proposal strengthens water quality with one hand, but weakens it with the other. The net effect seems to be a very modest change for some chemicals, and no change at all for others. It also represents yet another delay on committing to the health of the Puget Sound, and to the health of those who depend on its resources.
There are no winners in the governor’s announcement. We want to be able to encourage our people to eat more fish and shellfish, as it sustained them well for many generations, and forms the basis of our shared ways of life. We remain hopeful that the court of public opinion will convince the governor to reconsider his proposal so that when the tide is out it is safe to eat at the table.
Les Parks is the vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.
Washington’s clean-water regulations to ensure the safety of eating fish from local waters are indefensibly lax, everyone agrees. That’s about to change, but without broader cleanup, water will still be polluted.
Eat only as much fish as the state assumes you do every day, and you’d starve, for sure: It’s a chunk not much bigger than a Starburst candy.
But that could be about to change, under new regulations in the works at the state Department of Ecology. Washington seems likely to follow Oregon’s lead and set a water-quality standard for daily fish consumption at 175 grams, or about 6 ounces, per day.
The level is set not to regulate how much fish people eat, but how clean water needs to be. The standard sets pollution cleanup and control limits for industry, municipal sewage plants and other dischargers to local waters.
While it sounds like a modest step forward, implementing more realistic fish-consumption standards — Washington’s current standards are based on an outdated national average — has been a battle, chewing up years of effort and the political capital of two governors.
That’s because municipal sewage plants, pulp mills and other dischargers fear the cost of tighter pollution standards. Boeing famously entered the fray last year in widely reported warnings about the potential effect of unreasonable standards on its continued business operations.
“We support a water quality standard that protects human health and the environment, while at the same time, allows for the growth of our business and the state’s economy,” Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer wrote in a statement to The Seattle Times in an email July 1.
No one contests that the new levels will in some cases result in setting pollution-discharge limits too tiny even to measure with existing technology.
Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology are expected to announce the new proposed standard Wednesday and to work toward issuing a draft rule after that. The regulations will go through a lengthy public-comment period and be finalized only with the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, probably sometime next year.
The importance of water-quality standards to human health is well known, especially to people who eat a lot of fish. Because pollutants find their way from the uplands to the water, ultimately everything, for better or worse, winds up in the tissues of fish. Pollutants such as mercury and PCBs can cause a variety of serious illnesses and impairments, from cancer, to permanent IQ reduction in children. Pregnant women, the young and the frail are most at risk.
As the state develops commercially, the abundance of healthy fish from the state’s home waters has been slipping away. Toxics are just part of the problem. Habitat, every scientific report on salmon recovery shows, is the most important thing to securing abundant runs of fish for people and wildlife.
Yet the state is losing ground, literally, in runoff caused by development of uplands and cutting of forests.
And even as Seattle and King County water and sewer ratepayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Puget Sound, the city of Victoria, B.C., continues to spew untreated sewage directly into the Salish Sea — prompting a dust-up with Inslee, but still no resolution of the problem.
Inslee inherited the fish-consumption wrangle from former Gov. Chris Gregoire, who failed to implement new regulations amid scorching opposition from businesses. As the struggle to get the standards updated roils behind the scenes in Washington, regulators in Oregon, and business leaders, are carrying on with that work behind them.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued dozens of discharge permits since updating its standards in 2011, including permits for more than a half-dozen municipalities, a meatpacking plant and other industrial users. The path forward in Oregon required implementation of flexibility in setting timelines for compliance and variances, said Jennifer Wigal, water-quality program manager at the department.
A similar approach is in the works in Washington. Kelly Susewind, director of Washington Department of Ecology’s water-quality program, charged with drafting the regulations, said he wants to take the five-year time limits off compliance schedules and variances, to give regulators and dischargers a way to work out realistic solutions under new, more exacting standards.
Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for the Region 10 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose approval is required for Ecology’s regulations, said he backs flexible implementation.
“We are interested in working with the state on a package of implementation tools that includes compliance schedules, variances, intake water credits, even how you look at some chemicals. But we want to make progress. Otherwise, why do it?”
One place he is not inclined to budge, though, McLerran said, is cancer risk, because implementing a higher risk would allow bigger inputs of some pollutants to local waters. That could put people who eat a lot of fish at higher risk — and compromise treaty-protected fishing rights.
“Some of our high fish consumers when they signed on to transfer (their) lands, signed on to continue to harvest and eat fish, and when and if they can’t, then the treaty right is a bit vacuous,” McLerran said.
“From my perspective we want a standard that is protective, and protective of all people.”
A daily consumption standard of a little over 6 ounces of fish as set forth by Oregon — the highest standard in the country — is less than a typical half-pound filet an adult would have for dinner. And it’s a snack, compared with the estimated 2.2 pounds a day that the ancestors of Washington tribes were counting on when they signed the treaties with the U.S. government ceding tribal lands for non-Indian settlement.
People shouldn’t be afraid to eat fish now, Susewind said. The increased risk of cancer from eating fish today is almost zero — compared with a background risk of cancer from all causes of about 1 in 2 for men, or 1 in 3 for women.
And many common foods, from butter to chicken to tuna, have more PCBs in them than Puget Sound coho, according to an Ecology analysis.
The ubiquity of pollution is one reason Christie True, director of King County Natural Resources and Parks, said she hopes new state regulations don’t just crank down on pollutants at tiny levels in sewage discharges and other so-called point sources, but instead go after bigger sources of trouble in Puget Sound, including stormwater.
Just making compliance schedules workable doesn’t address the problem if the regulations misdirect spending and effort, she said.
“We want to make sure whatever investments we are making make a substantial improvement in water quality,” True said. “If we just focus on the point-source discharge, we are missing huge opportunities. All of these things, arsenic, PCBs, dioxins, those are coming through our watershed through street runoff and rain runoff, these are getting washed into our water without any kind of control.”
Dianne Barton, water-quality coordinator for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which pushed Oregon to get started on updating its standards, and is deeply involved with other Washington tribes in setting new standards in Washington, said tribes want progress, but not at any price.
In many rural and suburban areas of the Northwest, tribes are among the largest employers, running all kinds of industries themselves, and they want cost-effective solutions that make a true difference too, Barton said.
“The tribes have always believed that this is not something we are going to achieve overnight,” Barton said. “We can get creative.
“Whether as we move forward that includes variances or resources we haven’t developed yet, we are committed to being actively engaged so we can move the (Columbia) Basin forward.”
The people enter the longhouse led by an important visitor carried on a bed of ferns, cedars boughs, and salmonberries. As the people enter they announce that our visitor is hikw siyab yubech, Big Chief King Salmon, gathering around him in the center of the longhouse, rejoicing in his return and the promise he represents. The annual Salmon Ceremony celebrates the return of the King Salmon, the first salmon run of the year. It is a time for the people to all share in the first returning salmon. It is here that the yearly blessing of the fishermen takes place, praying for their safety and a bountiful season.
“We are thankful the fishermen have made it through another season. This is the reason we have the blessing of the fishermen, we ask the Great Spirit to bring them home safe, and ensure a good salmon catch,” said longtime ceremony leader, Stan Jones, Scho-Hallem.
For 24 years, my entire life, I have been raised with the salmon ceremony. I have attended all but one, and do not see myself missing any others. When practice starts, it is my favorite time of the year. For two months before the actual ceremony, families come together every week to share a meal, share the teachings, and share the songs and dances. I take great pride in seeing the ceremony continue and grow, and I am grateful to be a part of it. I’m thankful to carry on the work so many have handed down, thankful to see the familiar faces, and glad to see new faces.
Glen Gobin, Tee-Chulh, who leads the ceremony today said, “This is the first year we have entered with the welcome song and not been able to fit everyone around the longhouse floor.”
In my lifetime, the number of participants has steadily grown. But over the last four or five years, many young people have started to come to practice, and continue to return year after year. This could not have been possible had the Salmon Ceremony been lost, as it almost was. Revived in 1974, thanks to the work of Harriet Shelton Dover, Morris and Bertha Dan, Molly Hatch, Daisy Williams, Stan and JoAnn Jones, Bernie and Delores Gobin, Neil Moses, Louie Moses, Bobby Moses, and many more, the ceremony continues today.
In First Salmon Ceremony Then and Now, Harriette Shelton Dover, Hiyultsa, was filmed as she spoke about the revival of the ceremony. “Morris Dan and I, we were cousins. And we talked about the salmon ceremony, which had been, really, disappeared, because all of the Indians were discouraged from speaking the Indian language. And so, this Salmon Ceremony is a revival of the Snohomish Tribe’s Salmon Ceremony.”
The Salmon Ceremony continues today. It is as much a place for learning as it is a place for celebration. During the weeks’ prior practices, families gather to teach new participants, ranging from small children up to their grandparents, the songs and dances, and what they mean literally and what they mean for our people. Many cultural values are discussed at practice as well, working to preserve the essence of our culture along with the songs and dances.
“We remember an almighty Creator, that we call, in our language, Dukwibulth. Dukwibulth created all the earth, all of its people. He created us. He created the salmon for our use,” said Hiyultsa.
We depend on the salmon in many ways for local economies and for cultural subsistence. One of the many teachings brought out at the ceremony each year is the importance of our visitor.
“He is a scout for the salmon people,” said Tee-Chulh. “If we treat him with respect, if we receive him in a good way, and if we acknowledge his sacrifice for us to eat, he will return to the salmon village and tell his people that we are good people. And we will have a good fishing season that will sustain us through the year.”
“He is our grandfather,” added Patti Gobin, Squatalq, Glen’s sister who passes down the teachings she received from Hiyultsa at each practice. “Long before we were human, we were the salmon people. We still call ourselves the salmon people. Our grandfather allowed us to become human so long as we remembered who we are and where we come from. And so he comes every year to see if we remember and to see how we live our lives.”
His return symbolizes the return of a healthy salmon run, which our people depend on to survive, in many ways; as a source of income, and as a primary food source. A ceremonial feast to honor and celebrate that begins with the sharing of a small piece of fish and a drink of water, symbolic of everyone sharing in the salmon returning and the life that the water provides for our people.
For a few years now, the issues of climate change and environmental preservation and protection have been talked about on the long house floor at the salmon ceremony. Today, in the State of Washington, there is legislation being moved that would make regulations on industrial pollution more lenient. That legislation has direct impacts on the salmon and the people that depend on them.
“That piece of fish that we share in, that small amount we will all eat, that is equal to what the state is saying you can eat in a month without health risk. That’s not just us [Indian people], that’s everybody. And so, when we as tribes fight this, we do it for everyone,” said Tee-Chulh.
The Tulalip First Salmon Ceremony is about many things, but above all is the importance of culture. Our culture, the culture of the salmon people, extends far beyond our traditional customs to the values placed on caring for the environment and respecting the natural world. My grandfather, Bernie Gobin (Kia-Kia), always talked about respecting our resources, not taking them for granted.
Ray Fryberg Sr., Sdatalq, often shares a story that I appreciate. He was fishing with his grandmother, and there were lots of fish around, but his grandmother only ever caught enough to fill her small canoe and went home. When he asked why she didn’t stay and take more salmon home to sell or to keep, she simply replied that she left them so they would be there tomorrow.
The value in that story is to make sure there is enough salmon, enough of any natural resource, for tomorrow, for the next generation. That doesn’t just mean not overharvesting, it means protecting the environment so that the resource continues to not only survive, but thrive. If you take care of the resource it will continue to take care of you, and that is what salmon ceremony about today.
Andrew Gobin is a staff reporter with the Tulalip News See-Yaht-Sub, a publication of the Tulalip Tribes Communications Department. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (360) 716.4188
OLYMPIA — How much risk of cancer from eating fish is too much? Gov. Jay Inslee has privately advanced a proposal that would likely pass legal muster but which worries Indian tribes and environmentalists. It would allow a tenfold increase in allowable cancer risk under the law.
It’s either that, the governor has told a panel of his advisers, or the state will have to consider regulatory breaks for polluters that the state has not traditionally granted in the past.
For example: giving factories, municipal sewage treatment plants and others who dump pollution into waterways 20 years or perhaps even more to come into compliance with new toxic-waste limits.
Caught in crossfire between Indian tribes and business interests, Inslee stepped into the controversy last spring after his predecessor, Chris Gregoire, short-circuited plans by the state Ecology Department to make water pollution rules more protective of people who eat a lot of fish. Gregoire’s move came a day after the former governor met with a senior Boeing Co. executive who strongly objected to tighter restrictions on toxic pollution, as InvestigateWest was the first to report.
Inslee’s first step was to organize a panel of advisers, including business and tribal officials. It was in front of that group in February that the governor laid out the choices as he saw them, according to several people who attended the meeting.
Now Inslee is on the verge of handing down orders to the state Ecology Department on how to proceed. It’s a decision fraught with political tension because Inslee has allies in the tribes and in business.
“The governor came into this issue, inherited it, hearing both that this is going to kill business and hearing this is necessary to protect Washington citizens who are heavy fish consumers,” said Ted Sturdevant, who first pushed the tighter limits as director of Ecology and is now Inslee’s chief adviser on the issue. “He’s been looking for a path that does both — that protects people who eat a lot of fish and that doesn’t kill the economy.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly told Washington that the state must fix its system for regulating water pollution under the federal Clean Water Act.
What needs fixing is the fish consumption rate: an official state estimate of how much fish people eat and a key part of Washington’s formula for deciding how much pollution is allowed. The more fish people consume, the more exposure they face to water-borne pollutants, and the less pollution can be discharged into waterways under the Clean Water Act.
The fish-consumption estimate Washington uses is based on a national study conducted in 1973 and 1974 in which people filled out three-day food diaries. According to that study, and in the current state calculations, Washingtonians eat less than half a pound of fish per month, about one serving. In reality, many eat more in a single meal. Starting in the 1990s, more-rigorous studies of Northwest Indian tribes found fish consumption rates of 30 pounds per month or more among the highest consumers in the Suquamish Tribe, for example, where even the average consumer eats 14 pounds a month. Other groups, such as sport fishers and immigrant communities, are also known to eat fish in excess of the state estimate.
Critics of Washington’s one-meal-per-month figure point to Oregon, which in 2011 adjusted its rate to 11 pounds per month, or roughly one fish meal per day, making it the strictest standard in the nation. That move was designed to protect 90 percent of people eating fish in the state to a one-in-1-million standard of increased lifetime risk of cancer.
Following Oregon’s lead, Sturdevant as director of Ecology in 2011 began a process to correct Washington’s fish-consumption estimate. Vigorous protests from business and influential members of the state Legislature failed to stop the rulemaking process by spring 2012. But when Boeing took its complaint all the way to the governor, Gregoire told Ecology to go back to the drawing board.
Tribes protested. After his election, Inslee personally stepped into the controversy, tapping a panel of prominent business, tribal and municipal officials to try to reach agreement on a path forward.
Businesses and local governments rightly point out that wastewater technology is not currently available to meet the strict water-quality standards that would result if Washington adopts a fish consumption rate as high as Oregon’s.
To environmentalists and Indian tribes, that’s not the point. They rightly point out that the Clean Water Act has often required industry and others under its regulation to set a standard to protect public health and rely on that standard to drive technological innovation. That way, at least eventually, even heavy fish consumers are protected, they argue.
At a meeting at the governor’s office in early February, according to several of those who attended, the governor laid out two options, both of which lessen the potential burden on polluters:
Boost the estimate of how much fish Washingtonians are eating, but alter another pivotal part of the formula used to set pollution limits: the additional cancer risk from eating fish that is considered acceptable. Traditionally, Ecology has set that at one additional cancer case for every 1 million people exposed to a given pollutant. That number could be set at one in 100,000 instead, Inslee suggested, and remain within legal bounds. EPA allows states to set the risk at either level, so long as even highly exposed groups such as Indian tribes face risks no greater than one additional cancer case from eating fish per 10,000 people.
Keep the traditional limit of one-in-1-million increased cancer risk, but take steps to help pollution dischargers. This could include giving them variances from the rules; allowing them years or even decades to reduce pollution; or other alternatives. Similar polluter-friendly steps were taken in Oregon but traditionally have not been used in Washington. This second option, Inslee adviser Sturdevant told InvestigateWest, would have to be paired with “creative solutions” that would further protect fish eaters, although such solutions have not yet been outlined.
The EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 oversees the Ecology Department’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran refused to grant an interview to discuss EPA’s position or provide another spokesman for the agency.
But recently the agency repeated its position in a letter to the Washington Ecology Department, saying an “important part of a final rule is choosing a cancer risk level that provides risk protection for all Washington citizens, including those who eat higher amounts of fish.” If the state doesn’t come up with a rule by the end of the year, EPA plans to step in and do the job itself, the letter said. The suit the environmental groups filed in federal court seeks to force such action by EPA.
Meanwhile, a coalition of business interests, local governments and a labor organization endorsed increasing the allowable cancer risk. Expecting a one-in-1-million increased cancer risk is “unacceptable,” the group wrote in a letter to Inslee.
“We anticipate that this risk level, coupled with a high fish consumption rate, will result in largely unattainable ultra-low numeric criteria, unmeasureable incremental health benefits, and predictable economic turmoil,” the group said.
One signer was Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who served on Inslee’s panel of advisers and attended the meetings where the governor discussed the issue. She told InvestigateWest even the one-in-100,000 cancer rate would lead to significantly tightened water-pollution standards.
By adopting that goal, she said, “you can get industry to invest in ways that will move the needle for human health.”
Business and local governments argue, too, that they are unfairly targeted by the Clean Water Act. Pollution from factories and sewage plants has already been ratcheted down substantially since the landmark legislation was adopted in 1972. Nowadays, quite a bit of pollution flowing into Washington waterways comes not from a sewage plant or factory, but rather from the foul mix that flows off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces during rainstorms, carrying the detritus of our modern world, including three pollutants that have proved particularly difficult to clean up: PCBs, arsenic and mercury.
Tribal interests, nevertheless, are growing impatient with the Ecology Department’s drawn-out process.
“It’s really concerning to me,” said Jim Peters of the Squaxin Island Tribe. “It seems like they have no problem having heavy fish consumers have a higher risk of getting cancer than other people.
“It’s just not something we can accept. Tribal members and my family do eat a lot of fish. It’s part of our lives and part of our culture and a staple of our diets. And we’d probably eat more fish if there were more around.”
Although Inslee has not yet said publicly how he will resolve the dispute, those involved in the discussions say it seems likely that he will find a way to allow polluters leeway on PCBs, mercury and arsenic. What form that might take remains unclear.
Kelly Susewind, a key adviser to Ecology Director Maia Bellon, argues that one case per 100,000 people “is very, very close to zero” cases, although he acknowledges that one in 1 million “is even closer” to zero.
He said the agency should be given credit for not simply focusing on protecting the average person.
“We’re saying let’s set a number that’s right for high consumers,” Susewind said.
One thing to consider is that the measure of increased cancer risk is based on 70 years of exposure to a given pollutant. Also keep in mind that Washington’s population is about 6.9 million people. So if the allowable cancer rate were to be set at one in 100,000 people instead of one in 1 million people, the difference would be roughly 62 extra cases of cancer over 70 years — if the assumptions are right. It could be more or it could be fewer.
One of Inslee’s advisers is Seattle attorney Rod Brown.
“What’s your social judgment about how much risk is acceptable for a carcinogen?” Brown asks. “It sounds like math, but it’s also a social judgment.”
InvestigateWest is a Seattle-based non-profit journalism organization focused on the environment, public health and government accountability in the Pacific Northwest.
OLYMPIA – Legislators grappled Thursday with a seemingly small question that has a big impact on Washington’s pollution laws: How much fish do people eat?
The answer will affect water pollution standards on many state waterways and the companies that must meet those standards because some of the pollution ends up in fish. How much fish people eat can determine the risk for some cancers and other diseases.
The question is more complicated than it sounds, Kelly Susewind of the Department of Ecology told the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. Some groups, particularly Native Americans, eat more fish than others, and some people don’t eat any. Fish that spend their entire lives in a polluted river like the Spokane pick up more pollution than salmon, which are born in fresh water, live in salt water for much of their lives, then return to fresh water. Salmon that spend most of their lives in the Puget Sound can have as much as five times the polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a known carcinogen, as salmon that spawn in coastal streams and live most of their lives in the Pacific.
So a person who only eats the highly touted Copper River salmon, which comes from Alaska and is only available a short time each year, would have less risk than someone who eats salmon from Puget Sound? asked Committee Chairman Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale. Yes, Susewind said, but the standards aren’t being set to take that into account.
There is no statewide study of how much fish people eat and where it comes from, so the department is primarily using studies of tribes that primarily eat locally caught fish, he said.
Recent surveys indicate people on the Colville Confederated Tribes reservation eat about 400 grams of fish a day, Gary Passmore, the tribes’ environmental trust director, said Wednesday at a conference in Spokane. Rates are similar for tribal and nontribal members.
Current state pollution standards assume people eat 6.5 grams of fish per day. That’s a piece about the size of a saltine cracker, said Sen. Marilyn Chase, D-Shoreline. The department is considering the effects of assuming they eat 125 grams, about a quarter pound; 175 grams, about a third of a pound; or 225 grams, about a half pound, and estimating the potential increase in cancers.
Some senators worried businesses that currently meet pollution levels set to a consumption of 6.5 grams per day could struggle to reduce their pollution levels at those higher rates. Erickson said the higher rates would put Washington at a “competitive disadvantage with South Carolina for manufacturing” – a not-so-veiled reference to fears that Boeing would build new factories or move existing ones to that state if fish consumption rates get set too high. South Carolina’s estimate is 17.5 grams per day, but each state’s geography, waterways and consumption patterns are different, Susewind said.
But Chase said the state should set standards that protect future generations: “I’m offended to think we would hold our water-quality standards hostage to manufacturers.”
Boeing isn’t the only company closely watching the fish consumption rate debate. Inland Empire Paper Co., which is owned by the same company that owns The Spokesman-Review, spokesman.com and KHQ-TV, could also be affected by a higher rate. So could Spokane city and county, which struggle with PCB pollution in wastewater and storm runoff.
There’s no proposed legislation yet for new standards. At Wednesday’s conference in Spokane, Rick Eichstaedt, attorney for Spokane Riverkeeper, said the state has a history of continued delay on more accurate fish consumption rates, which he called a civil rights and environmental justice issue.
“It’s not OK to force a higher cancer rate on Native Americans, persons of color or the poor,” who eat more fish than the general public, he said.
An alliance of environmental groups and commercial fishing interests filed a federal lawsuit last month to force the federal government to make the state update its consumption rates and comply with the Clean Water Act. That puts more pressure on the EPA to get involved if the Legislature continues to delay.
SEATTLE — A fight over how much fish people eat in Washington — and thus, how much toxic pollution they consume — is now in federal court.
Conservation and commercial fishing groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, saying the agency has for too long let state officials underestimate fish consumption, resulting in weaker anti-pollution standards than are needed to protect the public.
The groups, including Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, reason that if the estimates were more realistic, the state would have to more strictly regulate emmissions of mercury, lead, copper and other toxins — a prospect that concerns industry groups and that emerged as a sticking point in budget talks in Olympia last spring.
Businesses must obtain permits before they can discharge pollutants into the state’s waters under the federal Clean Water Act, and increasing the estimate of how much fish people eat could result in those permits becoming more restrictive.
The state Ecology Department has worked for years on updating the fish consumption estimates, but Janette Brimmer, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit, said it has amounted only to so much dithering. EPA’s failure to make the state update its consumption estimates violates the Clean Water Act, she said.
“Washington has known for years their estimates are inappropriate and inaccurate,” she said. “They keep having task forces and roundtables, and nothing is happening. My clients finally said enough is enough.
The EPA could not be reached for comment because of the federal government shutdown.
Washington’s estimate is that average fish consumption amounts to just 8 ounces — roughly one fillet — per person, per month. That figure originally came from federal guidelines published in 1990, but the EPA began backing away from that more than a decade ago and urging states to adopt more realistic estimates.
Surveys show that actual fish consumption rates in Washington are vastly higher, especially among certain populations such as American Indian tribes, sport and commercial fishermen, Asians, and Pacific Islanders — some of which average as much as the equivalent of a moderate-sized fillet per day, rather than per month.
Ecology recognizes the estimate is too low and continues working on developing new standards, said spokeswoman Sandy Howard. The department is pushing toward issuing a draft rule early next year.
“This is very difficult work. The business community has been very vocal; they believe it’s impossible work,” Howard said. “We think we can have a balance where we can have environmental protection and a thriving economy.”
During the special session of the Legislature last spring, Ecology’s efforts to update the fish consumption estimate surfaced as a late point of contention holding up a budget deal. Following concerns voiced by Boeing Co., one of the state’s largest employers, the Senate proposed doing a larger study on the issue. The study would have derailed Ecology’s efforts, but ultimately was not funded.
Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Association of Washington Businesses, said the members of her organization remain concerned about how the consumption estimates could ultimately affect them.
“Health and human safety is of course the first priority,” McCabe said. “But there are competitveness issues going forward. It’s natural for us to look at new regulations that will affect industries’ capability to keep their doors open and people employed.”
Last month, Washington and Oregon officials announced that people should limit how much non-migratory fish, such as bass, bluegill and perch, they eat from a 150-mile stretch of the Columbia River, based on new data about contamination from mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. That prompted an angry response from some tribes, who said the states should focus on cleaning up the river rather than telling people to limit what they eat.
OLYMPIA — Three months after a dispute over how much fish Washington state residents eat nearly derailed the state budget, a panel of lawmakers revisited the controversial subject Monday in a more peaceful fashion.
But that doesn’t mean the fighting is over.
Members of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee got a progress report on revising the state’s water quality standards, a process that ties the amount of fish each resident eats with the levels of contaminants allowed in water discharged from industrial facilities.
This matter ignited a political tiff in the second special session in June when Senate Republicans insisted a comprehensive study of individual fish-eating habits be done before serious work began on rewriting the rules.
They were acting at the behest of the Boeing Co., which is concerned an increase in the consumption rate could lead to stricter discharge rules. That could require the company to spend millions of dollars in renovations at its facilities, and some Republicans contend it will convince Boeing to undertake its 777X program in another state.
Senate Republicans, who ultimately conceded on the study, organized Monday’s hearing partly to send a message to the Department of Ecology, which is writing the rules.
“We want to let them know we’re paying attention,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who led Monday’s 90-minute work session. “I think the people of South Carolina are paying attention to this rule, too.”
He said he may push again for a comprehensive study in the 2014 legislative session.
“My feeling is we’re going to work with the department because we have to,” he said, adding that he wants another update in November. “We’ll take a look and see what’s happened.
Environmental groups are watching closely, too, though none was allowed to speak to the committee during Monday’s work sesssion.
Two months ago, a coalition filed a notice of its intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency to force the state to enact more stringent standards.
Kelly Sussewind, water quality program manager for the state Department of Ecology, said the threat of a lawsuit “keeps the pressure on us” to stick to the timeline for making a decision.
Under the timeline, the department would propose changes early next year, hold hearings and adopt changes at the end of the year.
The standards are to ensure rivers and major bodies of water are clean enough to support fish that are safe for humans to eat, Sussewind explained. Whatever is adopted needs to be approved by the federal government.
Since 1992, the state has assumed the average amount of fish eaten each day is 6.5 grams, which works out to about a quarter of an ounce per day or 5.2 pounds per year
Regulators are considering an increase to at least 17.5 grams a day, or about 14 pounds a year, to be in line with current federal guidelines.
Sussewind told lawmakers the state is not required to do anything, but the federal government might not approve the new rules without a higher rate.
A Seattle attorney who did testify Monday said the state is going to have to do a good job explaining itself.
“There is a lot of emotion around this issue,” said attorney James Tupper, who said he represents firms which would be affected by the changes. “I think Ecology and the state have some really difficult policy choices to make. “The question is how will they come down on them?”