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April 17, 2014 at 6:25 AM

An almost-united front on the fish-consumption issue

Gov. Jay Inslee.

Gov. Jay Inslee.

Looks like newspapers across the state are chiming in on the fish-consumption issue, and nearly all of them see the same danger The Seattle Times observed in an editorial last week.

They say Washington industry and local governments could face a devastating problem when the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee finally announces its position on that rather odd-sounding question, how much fish do Washington residents eat? If the state does what federal regulators want, it would mean water-quality standards so tough no technology could meet them, and require the expenditure of billions of dollars to remove infinitesimal and undetectable amounts of contamination. A decision, in the form of a proposed rule from the state Department of Ecology, is expected sometime in the next few weeks.

The regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency is bringing all the pressure it can bear on the states of Washington and Idaho to adopt fish-consumption figures much higher than the ones they currently use – perhaps 25 times higher. This typically would mean water regulations 25 times tougher. Already, the regional EPA regulators have convinced Oregon to do it – giving the Beaver State by far the highest water-quality standards in the country.

How come? It appears a matter of political theory, not science. The Pacific Northwest regional office argues that as a matter of “environmental justice” the state ought to increase standards to protect minority populations that eat large amounts of fish. Yet, other EPA regional offices have taken the stand that current standards are tough enough to protect the entire population. No scientific evidence shows otherwise. And for all the bluster, the regional office doesn’t have the authority to require the state to do anything – any decision would have to come from Washington, D.C .

The Times argued last week the Inslee administration should stand up to the regional bureaucrats, or at least adopt a more modest proposal. Here’s what everyone else is saying:

An editorial in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin says the state ought to wait and see what happens in Oregon before it follows suit.

“It seems silly to base important public policy on a number pulled from thin air. Let’s hope Inslee takes it seriously and considers the full ramification of the decision.”

The Tri-City Herald editorial board says the rules might force the closure of the Boise-Cascade Wallula plant, as high costs in this state might encourage the parent company to invest elsewhere. Six hundred jobs are at stake in the Tri-Cities alone.  

“… the goal is not only unattainable but unmeasurable. We need clean water standards that make sense for the environment and the economy. The Oregon model does neither.”

A blistering editorial in The News Tribune of Tacoma starts off by saying “the other Washington is leaning on this state to adopt a water purity standard so absolute that it could siphon hundreds of millions of dollars out of people’s pockets and strangle the creation of new jobs.” It notes that the city of Bellingham has estimated sewer bills will rise from $35 a month to $200 or more.

“Those who demand extreme environmental policies are sometimes oblivious to the costs they would impose on the people least able to bear them. For many families, even a $100 sewer bill would mean less money to keep the car in repair, less gas to drive to work, less food and clothing for the children. The humane policy isn’t ‘let them eat fish.’”

An editorial in The Daily News of Longview worries that the Inslee Administration has sided with “environmental extremists at almost every opportunity,” and may do so again.

“We sympathize with Inslee in that he’s dealing with a regional EPA that seems to have crossed the line into activist agenda-setting and ought to be reined in by the main office in Washington, D.C., something that’s unlikely to happen. What the governor needs to do here is to resist federal pressure and to insist on reasonable standards, a course recommended by, among others, the customarily ultra-liberal and ultra-green editorial board of the Seattle Times.”

Among the state’s editorial boards, the only call for higher standards comes ironically enough from the City of Smokestacks.  An editorial in The Herald of Everett dismisses worries as a “business panic.” It says the approach of the regional EPA office is based on science and declares with certainty that if the state Department of Ecology doesn’t act, the federal agency would.

“The key is to ensure that the final rule reflects the best available science, the letter and spirit of the Clear Water Act, and the values and public health of all Northwesterners.”

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