Tribes Want EPA Involved In Washington Clean Water Rulemaking

By Associated Press

EVERETT, Wash. — An alliance of Washington tribes says it will ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and come up with new water-quality rules for the state.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission sent Gov. Jay Inslee a letter on Thursday expressing “dissatisfaction” with his proposal for updating the state’s clean water rules that are partly tied to how much fish people eat.

The Herald reports that the tribes say the proposal won’t do enough to protect tribal members. They’re also concerned about another delay.

Inslee’s plan would increase the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day, but the tribes say that improvement is offset by other less protective changes.

An Inslee spokesman said Saturday that the governor’s office and the Department of Ecology hope to discuss Inslee’s proposal with the group.

Inslee Water Quality Plan Too Little, Too Late

Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Russ Hepfer, Vice Chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and an NWIFC commissioner.

 

“Being Frank”

Inslee Water Quality Plan Too Little, Too Late

By: Russ Hepfer, Vice Chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe

 

Russ Hepfer

Russ Hepfer

More delay is about the only thing that any of us who live here in Washington can count on when it comes to a badly needed update of state water quality standards to protect our health.

After decades of foot-dragging  by previous governors, Gov. Jay Inslee recently unveiled his plan to revise our state’s ridiculously outdated water quality standards. While the plan offers a small increase in protection from 70 percent of the toxic chemicals regulated by the federal Clean Water Act, it maintains the inadequate status quo for the other 30 percent.

At best Inslee’s plan offers minimal progress in reducing contamination; at worst it provides a tenfold increase in our cancer risk rate.

Water quality standards are based in large part on how much fish and shellfish we eat. The more we eat, the cleaner the water needs to be. Two numbers drive our water quality standards: our fish consumption rate and our cancer risk rate from pollution in our waters.

Inslee’s plan rightly increases our fish consumption rate from the current 6.5 grams per day (about one serving of fish or shellfish per month) to 175 grams per day (at least one meal of fish or shellfish per day).

Support for that amount is a huge concession by tribes. Most tribal members, as well as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders eat far more than 175 grams of fish and shellfish per day. Current studies show daily consumption rates of 236 to 800 grams. Even those numbers represent suppressed rates. If more fish and shellfish were available for harvest, more would be eaten.

While giving a little with one hand, Inslee takes away a lot with the other, increasing our “acceptable” cancer risk rate tenfold, from one in a million to one in 100,000. Do you think anyone who gets cancer from the pollution in our fish and shellfish would find that risk rate acceptable? Would you?

That one in a million rate has protected all of us for the past 20 years. By increasing the cancer risk rate Inslee effectively cancels out most of the health benefits and improved water quality provided by the increased fish consumption rate.

The fish consumption and cancer risk rates are supposed to protect those who need it the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen and anyone who likes to eat local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.

To make up for the loss of protection under the cancer risk rate, Inslee proposes a statewide toxics reduction effort that would require legislative approval and funding. While the idea of a large toxics reduction program is a good one, it is not a substitute for an updated state water quality standards rule that carries the force of law.

No one knows what the Legislature might do, but two things are certain. There will be more delay and more opposition to Inslee’s proposal. Boeing and other opponents to improved water quality rules will likely engage in full-strength lobbying during the session to block any meaningful change, claiming that it will increase their cost of doing business.

The state has a clear duty to protect the environment to ensure that our treaty foods such as fish and shellfish are safe to eat. If not, those rights are meaningless. We will not put our hard-won treaty rights or the health of our children in the hands of the governor or state Legislature.

Our treaty rights already are at risk because most salmon populations continue to decline. The reason is that we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. What good is restored habitat if it does not include clean water?

Washington could have joined Oregon as a leader in protecting human health and natural resources. Oregon two years ago increased its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day and kept the one-in-a-million cancer risk rate. Now Oregon has the highest standards of protection in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Oregon economy hasn’t suffered and not one company has gone out of business as a result. Don’t we all deserve the same level of protection as Oregonians?

Any kind of justice that is delayed is justice denied. That includes both social and environmental justice. Further delays and weak water quality standards only worsen the suffering of many. Inslee’s plan is too little, too late.

Critics say proposed rules on fish consumption insufficient

Tribal leaders are skeptical of a proposal by Gov. Jay Inslee to set new water-quality standards.

 

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times, July 21, 2014

 

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.”

Inslee Launches Review Of Prison Population Growth

By Austin Jenkins, NW News Network

Washington state’s prison system is projected to need 1,000 new beds by 2018. And that growth has Governor Jay Inslee concerned.

Governor Jay Inslee meets with his newly-appointed Justice Reinvestment taskforce.
Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

 

The Democrat Tuesday announced a Department of Justice-backed review of the state’s criminal justice system. The goal is to look for ways to save money without jeopardizing public safety.

In Washington, crime and arrests are down. Still as the state grows, so does the prison population. Already the system is running 2 percent over capacity. To keep up with the growth, Washington has been looking to build a new prison. But what if there was a way to reduce the need for prison beds without releasing people who could be dangerous?

Inslee has appointed a 21 member taskforce to examine Washington’s sentencing system and look for ways to keep people from going back to prison again and again.

“So before we consider investing in a new prison, it really is important for us to take a look at this opportunity to see what smart, common-sense, data-driven, cost-benefit, evaluated efforts we can undergo here,” Inslee said.

Inslee said everything is worth considering from prepping inmates better for release to the early release of aging inmates.

Washington is one of four states participating this year in the national Justice Reinvestment project. That means the state will get funding and support from the U.S. Department of Justice and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Under New EPA Rules, Washington To Face Deepest Mandatory Cuts In CO2 Emissions

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — Under the new rules released by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, each state has a specific percentage by which it has to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

The average of all the individual state-level cuts will be CO2 emissions from power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels.

Washington has one of the lowest CO2 emissions levels from electricity generation in the country.

Yet, under the new EPA rules, Washington is on the hook to cut those emissions by more than any other state.

“It’s a goal that we can, should and will meet, in part because we’ve already taken early action in our state,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told EarthFix.

Inslee’s confidence comes, in part, from the fact that his state has already finalized plans to phase out Washington’s only remaining coal fired power plant by 2025.

The plant is responsible for almost 70 percent of the state’s emissions from electricity generation.

That’s almost exactly how much the EPA says Washington has to cut to meet the new requirements.

“Yes, we are ahead of the game,” says KC Golden, senior policy advisor for Climate Solutions, an advocacy group based in Seattle, “but if you measure by what we need to be doing in order to stave off dangerous climate change then we’re behind the game.”

Washington has already committed to more renewable energy and energy efficiency at the state level. But Golden says there’s a lot more work to be done, and the EPA rules are actually pretty lenient.

Golden and other environmentalists say that the state needs to stop buying coal power generated elsewhere. Washington has a dirty little secret: While most of the electricity consumed in Washington comes from hydropower, 15 percent comes from coal.

And a large portion of that comes from plants in Montana and Wyoming.

Golden says the EPA rule will encourage those states to find cleaner sources of power to sell to West Coast states.

“States like Montana and Wyoming have a lot of coal but they also have a lot of wind and sun. Most of the customers are in the coastal states and they want clean power. If you’re in the power supply business, the customer’s always right.”

But wind and sun aren’t always reliable, and the transition off coal won’t happen over night, says Kimberly Harris, CEO of Puget Sound Energy, the largest investor-owned utility in Washington State. PSE gets 30 percent of its power from coal, more than half of it comes from out-of-state.

“You cannot just shut down coal units and expect for the grid to continue to operate,” she told a crowd at the Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners in Seattle last week. “Any type of a retirement has to be transitional because we have significant decisions to make and … this really needs to be a regional approach.

Inslee has been pushing Washington to join regional carbon cap and trade systems –- like the one already in place in California — but hasn’t been able to get the necessary legislation passed.

The new EPA rules will lead to reduced coal-fired power in the U.S. – but the rules don’t apply to coal that is exported and burned elsewhere.

That’s an issue for Washington. It’s currently reviewing proposals to build two coal export terminals.

As coal becomes more heavily regulated and less fashionable in the U.S., coal companies are more eager to ship it elsewhere – despite the fact that the emissions from burning that coal in Asia will impact the climate, globally.

Being Frank: Put People Before Profits

 

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – When it comes to your chances of getting cancer from the foods you eat, what odds would you like: one in a million, or one in 100,000?

Of course all of us would prefer the least amount of risk. That’s why it’s hard to believe that Gov. Jay Inslee is even considering changing water quality rules that would increase that risk. The justification?  Businesses such as Boeing say that protecting your health increases their cost of doing business.

There are two important numbers that go into determining how much pollution the state allows to be put in our waters. The numbers are 10-6  and 6.5.

The first number is your cancer risk rate from eating fish and shellfish containing toxics  from pollution in our waters. Right now that rate of 10-6  provides you a one in a million chance of getting cancer. But Gov. Inslee  is considering changing the risk rate to 10-5 increasing your exposure to known carcinogens to one in 100,000. That’s a tenfold decrease in protection, and that’s not right.

The second number is the amount of seafood that the state of Washington says you eat every day. The lower the number, the less protective water quality standards need to be to protect us from poisons in our water.

The problem is that the state’s current rate of 6.5 grams per day (equal to about one 8-ounce portion per month) is one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the nation. It’s lower even than states like Iowa, despite the fact that Washington has abundant seafood and one of the largest populations of fish and shellfish consumers in the United States.

The state admits that the current fish consumption rate doesn’t protect most of its citizens, yet has used that very same rate to set water quality standards for more than two decades. After years of prodding by the tribes, environmental groups and others, the state has finally agreed to develop a more realistic rate and is considering a range from 125 to 225 grams per day.

While that’s encouraging, if the state adjusts the companion number, the cancer risk rate, any increase in the fish consumption rate would be made almost meaningless in terms of improved water quality standards.

The treaty tribes have been clear from the start about what we would like to see. We think the cancer risk rate should stay right where it is, and the fish consumption rate should be at least 175 grams per day. That’s the same rate that Oregon uses. We think everyone deserves at least that much protection. That’s especially true for tribes, sport fishermen and anyone else who eats a lot of fish and shellfish.

We should know Gov. Inslee’s decision on the fish consumption and cancer risk rates in a few weeks.   We hope he will decide in favor of protecting our health and water quality. The choice really boils down to whether we want a pollution-based economy or one that puts people and their health ahead of profits.