Gov’s choice to quit on water quality update a mistake

When someone quits on an important public project that they founded, it can leave the people who came on board and worked in good faith a little confused. No doubt a few stakeholders on Gov. Inslee’s water quality taskforce felt a little confused earlier this year when the governor threw out their carefully negotiated work over so little.

It all started with a federally-mandated update of our state’s water quality rules. The debate was driven by seemingly obscure data such as the fish consumption rate. Businesses and cities were worried about run-away compliance costs and skyrocketing sewer rates for all of us.

Hanging over the process was a threat from the federal Environmental Protection Agency: make the requirements stringent enough or we’ll re-write them for you.

So the Inslee Administration convened a taskforce of stakeholders, took extensive input, and hashed out an agreement that various interests could live with. It looked like a surefire victory.

Then the inexplicable
In a surprise move, Inslee threw out all this good work and walked away from the process. The reason given – some would say, the excuse needed – was that the Legislature did not pass a new law to give Inslee’s Ecology Department authority to ban certain “source-point” chemicals outright.

I understand that the governor wanted his priority bill, but it wasn’t immediately necessary to implement the new water regulations. The position he found himself in is not unique. Even slam-dunk bills in Olympia sometimes fail to pass, and proponents just have to try again next year.

Most in this predicament would say, let’s take our 4/5 of a victory for now, especially with the EPA standing by, and try for the rest later. The prospect of a federal takeover of our water quality standards, for most people, would be a further nudge in this direction.

Instead, the governor walked away. The feds are now writing our water quality standards, and all signs point to them writing rules as stringent as Oregon’s unrealistic regulations. “State leaders need to protect our authority over our waterways. We all want clean water and fish that are safe to eat, but the standards have to be realistic. If EPA rules are imposed, they won’t be,” the Tri-City Herald argues.

Not leadership
The decision to scrap our state’s process exhibits a total lack of leadership. Instead of scoring an important victory, Inslee chose “all-or-nothing”. Instead of modesty, we got hubris. Instead of our state being in charge of its own decisions, the federal government is making decisions for us – and doing it badly.

Some see a conspiracy here, and it’s hard to disagree with them. By walking away, the theory goes, with full knowledge of the requirements the feds were likely to institute, Inslee could get the much-more-stringent regulations he wanted without taking the heat for writing them. That’s pretty plausible.

But regardless of how we got here, the state is now not currently in charge of its own destiny – and that was the Inslee Administration’s intentional choice.
-Rob McKenna

Read more:

Tri-City Herald: State needs alternative to new EPA water standards

How clean is clean?

That is the key question when it comes to setting new water quality standards in Washington.

The answer either will be safe and reasonable, or unattainable, depending on whether the state can come up with its own set of criteria in time.

We suggest state officials dive in and get it done.

If they don’t, the Environmental Protection Agency is ready to take over and impose its own clean water standards, which are unrealistic and would put a burden on any private business that must treat water before returning it to the waterways.

Continue reading…

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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.