EPA’s overreach deserves strong response from Olympia

Our state is in the middle of the process to update water quality standards. It’s not an exciting topic, but if not handled properly, it could prove very expensive for cities and homeowners and result in lost jobs.

The standards are set largely around an unimportant-sounding statistic called the Fish Consumption Rate. The state has tried to strike a balance, improving water quality standards without driving up costs so much that Washington takes a big economic hit.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, through its Region 10 bureaucracy that covers our state, is taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach to the issue. It wants the state to go beyond the current proposal and basically copy Oregon’s exact approach to the matter. Here’s how the Spokesman-Review sees it:

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.

This isn’t just a matter of making water treatment more expensive. The EPA wants Washington to adopt Oregon-like standards that require treatment levels that today’s technologies cannot accomplish – in fact, they’re not even close to accomplishing.

There are constitutional matters at stake here as well. From Walla Walla’s Union-Bulletin:

Ironically — and unfortunately — the EPA is now putting pressure on the Governor’s Office to set tougher standards with hints it will usurp state authority with its own.

That can’t be allowed to occur. This is an issue of states’ rights.

The relationships between the federal government and the states are usually cooperative, but sometimes the feds need to be told to go pound sand. I’ve been involved in some of those efforts myself, including holding the federal government’s feet to the fire on Hanford’s clean-up.

Our state is perfectly capable of thinking through this important issue and setting its own water quality standards that conform to all relevant laws. Surely the Region 10 bureaucrats can find some work that’s more useful – and appropriate – to focus on.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.