Meeting the Needs of the People

Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest

Wendee Nicole


Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(11) 

In This Article

More Frustration

But despite WADOE's work with industry, tribes, and environmentalists to develop the new standards and implementation tools, four environmental groups and two commercial fishing organizations[27] sent a 60-day intent-to-sue notice to the EPA in July 2013 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Washington state.[28] The groups requested immediate action by the EPA to, at minimum, establish a fish consumption rate so they can move on to discussing implementation of new standards—which will be challenging in itself.

However, the groups are not enthusiastic about the implementation ideas that WADOE has floated so far. "There are talks of compliance schedules several decades long. There's simply no precedence under the Clean Water Act for variances [that persist over] multiple permit cycles," says Bart Mihailovich, director of Spokane Riverkeeper, one of the groups that sent the notice. A typical variance—an allowance granted by the EPA for a facility to not meet water quality standards—lasts the duration of a single five-year permit cycle.

"I don't consider what we're doing as loopholes," says WADOE's Gildersleeve. "We're requiring businesses to put together pollution plans that they would implement in their NPDES permits, and they would have to take actions to reduce toxics. If it looks like they're not able to meet [the standards] because the technology doesn't exist, then we'll consider looking at a variance. They would have up to forty years for some chemicals like PCBs that are pervasive in the environment." She acknowledges that the EPA may not approve this idea.

"We recognize that new permit limits will be challenging for industry," says Sandy Howard, WADOE communications manager. "We feel we need to do this to protect current and future generations. If we don't update our standards now, EPA or the courts will do it for us."