Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at the State of the State address in January. Flickr/Jay Inslee.How much risk of cancer from eating fish is too much? Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has privately advanced a proposal that would likely pass legal muster but that 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, Christine 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.
Media outlets from Seattle to Spokane on Tuesday cited InvestigateWest’s series of articles on the political battle over fish consumption rates in 2012, a fight led by Boeing and reaching the highest levels of state government.As we reported last night, a coalition of environmental organizations took the first step toward legal action to compel the EPA to fix Washington’s water pollution rules, which are based on outdated and incorrect assumptions about how much fish some residents eat.Those that referred to InvestigateWest’s reporting include KPLU’s Bellamy Pailthorp, Lisa Waananen at The Inlander, Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix/KUOW, and KOMO’s Jeff Burnside.The series was also acknowledged by environmental law firm Earthjustice in its press release announcing legal action.
Anglers enjoy the upper section of the Yakima Canyon, near Ellensburg, Wash.Credit: Scott Butner/FlickrSaying Washington is failing to protect fishermen and their families from toxic chemicals in fish -— and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a legal duty to act within months to fix the problem, instead of the years that have elapsed — environmentalists on Tuesday initiated a formal legal challenge.At issue is a formula for how much water pollution is allowed by the Washington Department of Ecology, based on how much fish people are likely to eat. The less fish people are assumed to eat, the more water pollution can be permitted under the federal Clean Water Act. EPA oversees Ecology’s administration of the federal clean-water law.EPA repeatedly has told the Washington Ecology Department that the current estimate of Washingtonians’ fish consumption — averaging 6.5 grams per day, or about the amount of fish that could fit onto a Saltine — is far out of date. The number is based on “food diaries” filled out by consumers in a few states in the 1970s. Yet studies in Washington over the last two decades have shown that at least some people here, especially subsistence fishermen, members of Indian tribes and sport fishers, eat a lot more — up to 100 times as much among heavy fish consumers.
On the heels of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s jumping into the fray over water-pollution standards, which we reported yesterday, the only environmental group still cooperating with the state Ecology Department on the issue announced today it is dropping out, citing what Northwest Environmental Advocates called “Orwellian doublespeak” used to cover up huge proposed loopholes. The group also charged that “Ecology has bent over backward to satisfy pollution sources concerned about having to reduce their toxic discharges to Washington’s waters.”NWEA Executive Director Nina Bell said in an interview that she already was drafting a letter of resignation from Ecology’s process when she heard about Inslee’s forming a panel of advisers that did not include environmental groups.“Excluding organizations that represent the health interests of Washington’s citizens and who have expertise in the Clean Water Act and pollution control is both stunning and insulting,” said the NWEA resignation letter to Maia Bellon, the Ecology director.“Our absence will leave the group without any non-polluting participants,” the letter notes. (Read the full letter below.)