Gov. Jay Inslee is wading into the controversy on state water-pollution regulations that InvestigateWest first reported earlier this spring.
In a letter to the state Ecology Department (embedded below), Inslee announced his intention to organize an informal group of advisers from local governments, Indian tribes and businesses. Environmental groups, notably, are not mentioned. The process is to kick off this month, and Inslee told Ecology Director Maia Bellon that by late this year he will “provide you with guidance” that will allow new rules to be proposed in early 2014.
At issue are the state’s decades-old and critics say badly flawed assumptions about how much fish Washingtonians are eating. The way the state’s pollution rules are written, the more fish people are assumed to eat, the cleaner local waterways must be kept, and the harder it is for businesses to comply with the law.
Ecology set out to update the rules under Inslee’s predecessor, Gov. Christine Gregoire, but ultimately postponed the changes last June after Gregoire met with a key Boeing executive and a few days later with then-Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.
Inslee’s letter to Bellon, released late on Friday, calls for the agency to help educate Inslee’s advisory group, “including real-world scenarios illustrating how new criteria would be applied and how new implementation and compliance tools would work in the permitting context.” Ecology officials have previously said the “implementation and compliance tools” could include giving businesses up to 40 years to cut pollution levels to the amount that presumably would be required once accurate fish-consumption rates are in place.
It remains to be seen whether Indian tribes will agree to participate. Tribal interests and nearly all environmental groups – with the exception of Portland-based Northwest Environmental Advocates – have been boycotting the two-year Ecology “stakeholder process” set in motion by last summer’s decision.
Tribes instead took their case to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had repeatedly warned Ecology in the past that the current estimate of fish consumption is unrealistically low. The Indian tribes cited treaties that guarantee them the right to fish in Washington waters – rights they say are abridged if the fish is not safe enough to eat on a regular basis.
The controversy over fish consumption rates was not widely known to the general public prior to InvestigateWest’s reporting, which prompted news coverage and editorials across the state. Inslee’s personal involvement suggests that the issue is now a priority for the administration.