Washington state lawmakers strongly criticize EPA decision to forgo public hearings on rule change

The public must be heard.

That’s the blistering message from Washington state’s Democratic congressional delegation to the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s attempt to roll back rules — without public hearings — that impact Washington state’s water quality standards.

Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Washington state’s Democratic lawmakers — including Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA, 6th District), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7th District), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA, 1st District), Denny Heck (D-WA, 10th), Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2nd District), Kim Schrier (D-WA, 8th District), and Adam Smith (D-WA 9th District) — sent a letter to EPA this week that demanded the agency follow through on its duty to seek public input on its proposal to withdraw Washington state’s water quality standards, also known as the ‘fish consumption’ rule.

Murray’s office said the proposed rule would remove water quality standards that are currently in place in Washington, and that were finalized in 2016 after extensive coordination between state agencies, tribes, local municipalities, and industry stakeholders. It’s a move, lawmakers said, that could potentially jeopardize the clean water that millions of Washington families rely on.

Currently, no hearings on the proposed rule have been scheduled in Washington state, and EPA has announced it plans to only solicit public opinion via “online public hearings,” which lawmakers said limits participation to individuals with reliable broadband internet access, and potentially runs afoul of rules governing public comment.

“The lack of any in-person public hearings on this matter of great public interest has the potential to undermine several bedrock laws imperative to the protection of our environment,” Washington leaders wrote in the letter.

“It is our shared concern that EPA’s proposed ‘online public hearings’ undercut the spirit of public comment, limiting potential engagement to those with reliable broadband internet access, and could potentially violate regulations pertaining to the proper administration of the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.”

They added: “This course of action also leads us to question EPA’s broader commitment to upholding the federal government’s responsibility to engage in government-to-government consultation on an issue of critical importance to Washington state’s 29 federally-recognized tribes.”

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