“It seems silly to base important public policy on a number pulled from thin air”

Sometimes, the routine or obscure decisions government officials make can have profound repercussions that are not fully understand at the time. One potential Pandora’s box that is concerning to many job creators in Washington is the governor’s pending decision on the state’s Fish Consumption Rate (FCR), which drives water quality standards.

It’s not smarter government to impose standards on businesses and cities that they cannot meet, even with today’s most advanced and expensive technology. As we’ve discussed on SGW before, some environmental groups want the FCR set so high that cities would need to spend billions on new water treatment technologies – and still not meet the water quality standards. One study estimated that sewer rates in Bellingham could rise to $250 a month. That’s ludicrous.

Unrealistic standards will kill jobs, too. A high FCR could lead to the absurd result of requiring businesses to clean up discharge water to the point that it is many magnitudes cleaner than the water source that it flows back into. That will affect many types of businesses – from Boeing to pulp mills – especially the manufacturing businesses that provide some of the highest-paying and stable employment in their areas.

In any process we have to ask, is this leading us to a conclusion that is rational? If it’s not, the process itself is flawed. If the state sets an FCR that is far out-of-whack with median fish consumption, we will end up with unattainable water quality standards that are not rational. Some will find themselves newly unemployed just as their city jacks up sewer rates immensely to meet the new standards. That’s not a doomsday scenario, but a real possibility for some Washingtonians.

Left aside in this process is a critical question: Could the many billions spent on chasing unrealistically high water quality standards be better spent on other priorities that would do a lot more to help our environment?

Many around the state are taking notice of this issue, both its potential for job losses and the seemingly arbitrary process that is leading us to a possibly unrealistic result. As the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorialized, “It seems silly to base important public policy on a number pulled from thin air.” Oregon recently set a high FCR, and the repercussions of that are just starting to be felt. It would be wise of Washington leaders to slow down and watch the process in Oregon play out so we can avoid the same potential pitfalls.

The decision on a new FCR essentially rests with the governor. He will be under pressure from his friends in environmental to groups to set a high rate, but he needs to push back and set a rational rate that leads to attainable goals. Choosing otherwise is choosing to oversee an exodus of well-paying jobs from our state.
-Rob McKenna


Inslee must use reason in setting water-quality rules

The fate of Wallula’s Boise Paper mill — and its 600 jobs — could depend on how much fish Washingtonians eat. Or, to be precise, how much fish Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology estimate state residents consume.

No joke. We aren’t talking clownfish here, but steelhead and salmon.

Fish consumption matters because water quality standards will be based on how much fish are eaten. The more fish consumed, the more toxins from the fish might be passed along to those who eat them. So, at least in theory, higher fish consumption would suggest a need for stricter water quality standards.

Read more: http://union-bulletin.com/news/2014/mar/28/inslee-must-use-reason-setting-water-quality-rules/

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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.