Typical EPA overreach will mean higher water bills for you

The Environmental Protection Agency has decreed that Washington’s new stringent water quality standards aren’t stringent enough. The federal agency rejected significant portions of our state’s rule, calling instead for levels of water purity that can’t be achieved currently.

It’s yet another example of federal regulatory overreach into the states. The EPA is rejecting valid state-driven regulations and acting as the sole arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable.

The consequences for you as a taxpayer, consumer, and utility ratepayer could be serious. The technologies to meet the EPA’s preferred standards on certain chemicals do not yet exist. Even under the state’s rule, it was estimated that municipal water facilities around the state will require $7.4 billion in upgrades, to be borne by ratepayers through higher monthly water charges. Important employers, too, will have to pay for expensive new technology.

The Everett Herald summarized the elements of our state’s proposal that the EPA rejected:

In the end, a main difference between the state and federal approaches concerned regulating of PCBs, arsenic and mercury.

The state wanted to maintain current limits for PCBs but EPA officials didn’t agree. Instead, they went with a stricter limit on allowable levels of PCBs.

The EPA also approved a stricter standard for methyl mercury than the state put forth. State officials expressed concern the standard would be too difficult for dischargers in Washington to meet.

The state standards that the EPA rejected were already stringent, expensive, and stretching technological limits. The rejected standards were based on someone having a one-in-a-million chance of developing cancer after 70 years of drinking 10 cups of water and eating 175 grams of Washington fish daily. That doesn’t go far enough, by the EPA’s figuring.

As the Tri-City Herald notes, the EPA’s standards for our rivers would exceed those currently required for school drinking fountains:

Everyone wants clean water, but we need to be realistic.

A story by the Everett Herald said the state’s plan maintained the current standard for PCBs, and set the limit for arsenic at the same level the federal government considers safe for drinking fountains at elementary schools. But that apparently was not good enough for the EPA.

Expecting river water to be cleaner than water from a drinking fountain is a tall order.

Officials could have acknowledged that “tall order” if the process to reach this point had been rational. It wasn’t.

The one ray of hope here is that the change of administration will turn over top leadership at the EPA. Could, say, a Doug Ericksen as EPA Region 10 Administrator drive a better conclusion? Let’s hope so.
-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.