SEATTLE – A U.S. federal judge has told the EPA it must finalize new water-quality rules aimed at making Washington state waters cleaner. The rules are known as fish consumption rules because they must ensure that fish caught in Washington state waters are safe to eat. Last year, the EPA said Washington’s standards violated the Clean Water Act and proposed a replacement rule. However, Janette Brimmer, staff attorney at Earthjustice, said the EPA has dropped the ball since then.
“The EPA, under the Clean Water Act, was supposed to finalize the replacement rule within a very short period of time,” she explained. “That deadline ran out last December, and the EPA just sort of got off track and so, that’s what led to this particular litigation.”
The U.S. District Court judge said the EPA has until November 15th to finalize new rules for water standards in Washington state. Brimmer said native tribes in Washington are especially at risk from unsafe waters, which have led to an accumulation of mercury and PCBs in fish.
In order to come into closer compliance with the EPA’s proposed rule, Washington state this week revised its average fish consumption rate from 6.5 grams a day, which is about one fish fillet per month, to 175 grams, or about one fillet per day. But Brimmer said everyone, from fishermen to native tribes to the EPA, has criticized the revised rules.
“So, we will be telling the EPA in no uncertain terms that they cannot approve that rule, and that they’ve got to finalize the one they proposed, because that is the one that they found necessary and scientifically supportable,” she said.
Many in the business community are concerned that new standards will be costly and be hard to maintain. Brimmer counters that shouldn’t keep the state and EPA from doing their jobs to protect Washington’s waters.
“You don’t allow for worse water quality that does not protect humans simply because somebody needs a little time to get their act together,” she added.
Brimmer said under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can implement compliance plans so that businesses have time to develop strategies to clean up waterways.
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.