Gov. Jay Inslee today directed the state Department of Ecology to reconsider its draft clean water rules while he and the agency assess options on how best to assure protection for the health of Washington’s people, fish and economy.
Inslee announced a comprehensive plan a year ago that combined an update of the clean water standards under the federal Clean Water Act with proposed legislation and funding for stronger and broader controls on toxic threats in our environment.
The legislative proposal was backed by a coalition that included local governments and some businesses. But it faced heavy opposition from the American Chemistry Council and others. The House passed the bill during the regular legislative session but the Senate failed to act on it.
“Without this legislation we lack the necessary broad approach to protecting our water in a way that advances human, environmental and economic health,” Inslee said. “The lack of legislative action is disappointing and forces us to reassess our approach.”
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to establish standards for how clean our waters need to be and to control pollution limits for businesses and municipalities that are permitted to discharge wastewater.
But with more water pollution coming from sources other than those permitted discharges, the governor believes that Washington state needs to reach beyond the confines of our historic regulatory approach and recognize how water pollution has changed in the 40 years since the federal law was adopted. Today’s toxic pollution comes from the small-but-steady release of chemicals in everyday products – brakes on vehicles, flame retardants in furniture, softeners in plastics, and metals in roofing materials.
Inslee’s legislative request would have addressed these largely unregulated chemical threats – pollution challenges that the Clean Water Act alone can’t solve.
Ecology was scheduled to adopt new water quality rules by Aug. 3. It would then have been submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review and approval. As directed by Inslee, Ecology will not be adopting the current proposed rule.
Hundreds of people participated in the public comment process on the draft rule with more than 1,600 comments received from 100 entities including tribes, business, local government, and environmental interests. Concerns largely focused on cancer risk levels.
The governor is directing Ecology to reassess the rule in light of the Legislature’s inaction. The department could rewrite the rule before submitting it to EPA or look for other ways to enhance clean water and reduce toxics.
If the state chooses to not finalize a rule, EPA would impose a water quality standard on Washington state. The EPA has already begun drafting its proposed rule.