Inslee’s water quality standards cause a panic | THE PETRI DISH

For months, there’s been a drumbeat of panic that new water quality standards based on how much fish people eat could drive Boeing and other companies out of Washington.

For months, there’s been a drumbeat of panic that new water quality standards based on how much fish people eat could drive Boeing and other companies out of Washington.

The alarm, sounded by voices in the circles of business, labor and Republican lawmakers, is the price of compliance would be too expensive to be worth sticking around.

But two state reports issued this week contend the changes won’t make a whit of difference to the bottom line and operations of those firms. And if there’s even a hint of problems, state government would be ready to flex its rules to ensure things work out.

Those reports accompanied Tuesday’s release of the proposed equation Gov. Jay Inslee wants to use to regulate what gets discharged into waterways from paper mills, sewage treatment plants and manufacturing facilities.

The most talked about components have been how much fish residents eat and the risk of those folks getting cancer from exposure to chemicals in the water where the fish are caught.

Inslee wants to hike the fish consumption rate significantly to 175 grams per day from the current 6.5 grams and vary the cancer-risk rate used on a chemical-by-chemical basis.

As part of the rule-making process, the Department of Ecology had to estimate if the changes might force businesses and local governments to shell out a bunch of money on improvements in order to comply.

The agency conducted an analysis in which it examined the potential effects on 415 different facilities, public and private, operating today with a permit restricting their discharges.

And the conclusion was there will be “no impact” and “zero incremental cost” to existing facilities.

In other words, if the proposed changes are enacted next year, no one will have to do anything different than they do now.

“This meets the clear directive from the governor that we update our clean water standards to protect the health of all Washingtonians, our environment and our economy,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement Tuesday.

“What matters to people, and fish, is not the formula but the outcome – it’s less about the complex formula going into the standard and more about the level of pollution coming out of the pipe,” she said. “And the end result is that most standards are more protective and, with the one exception of naturally occurring arsenic, no standard is less protective than today.”

There was little immediate reaction Tuesday from those who had been worried about the impact on businesses.

That wasn’t the case with tribal leaders and environmentalists who continue to press the governor to not allow use of a lower cancer-risk rate.

“Asking Washingtonians to assume a higher level of cancer risk is not an acceptable trade-off,” reads a statement issued by the Washington Environmental Council.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 western Washington tribes, criticized the approach in a letter to Inslee last month. The governor has yet to respond.

“That’s just not acceptable for our tribe, for any tribe in the state or anybody who eats a lot of salmon,” Jim Peters, a member of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council told the Associated Press. “They really don’t understand that impact to our people.”

The Department of Ecology will formally launch the rule-making process in January and hold public hearings on the proposal.

That will give all the voices a chance to be heard.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

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