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EPA tells Washington to be more like Oregon

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Article Courtesy of Washington Focus

Though Washington started as an offshoot of Oregon Territory, its status as junior partner is ancient history. A few writers occasionally fret over whether Portland is cooler than Seattle, but the statistics tell the real tale. With more people, more wealth, and more globe-dominating major corporations, Washington is the Northwest leader.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t see it that way, though. Two years ago Oregon set incredibly stringent water quality standards, ones that the EPA thinks others should emulate. The fact that Oregon’s standards can’t be met by current technologies – not even close – doesn’t seem to matter to them.

Washington is in the middle of updating its own water quality standards. The bill, HB 1472, passed the House on March 11 and awaits action in the Senate.

Less than two weeks after the bill’s House passage, the EPA sent Washington a letter saying, in essence, “not good enough.” Here’s how the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane described the EPA’s letter:

On March 23, the agency sent a letter to the state Department of Ecology that essentially patted it on the head for its effort to upgrade its water quality standards and said, “Nice try. Now do it our way.” Of course, that’s paraphrasing more bureaucratic language, but the message is unmistakable. DOE can find the “best available science” by merely looking at an EPA draft report from 2014. This makes it sound as if the state’s role is perfunctory, but it isn’t.

Setting standards at Oregon’s levels would mean that in some waterways, treated water flowing back into the system would be significantly cleaner than the source it was taken from. Manufacturers, pulp mills, city governments, and many others are worried about the expensive implications of setting standards like that.

If Washington ignores what the EPA wants, the matter could be headed for the courts. The Spokesman-Review, calling the EPA “unrealistic regulators”, says giving in to the federal agency’s demands “would be a huge mistake tactically and economically.”

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