A Seattle judge put new and better water quality standards in the fast lane with a ruling yesterday that set a firm deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein found EPA in violation of the Clean Water Act for failing to meet deadlines aimed at protecting human health in Washington. The federal agency has until mid-November to finalize their rules, if they do not  approve the state’s rules.

Tribes, along with environmental groups and other organizations, have been urging the state of Washington and EPA to update the state’s water quality standards for decades. The inadequate standards are of particular concern to treaty tribes, because their members eat much more seafood than the current standards protect for.

Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law firm, filed a federal lawsuit, urging action against EPA for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act.

From Earthjustice’s press release:

“The judge wholeheartedly agreed we need safer water laws NOW and that EPA has been derelict in finalizing protective standards,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The State and EPA fiddled for years while deadline after deadline passed, but finally the courts and the Clean Water Act are calling the tune. Now it is up to EPA to act quickly and reject the rule the State proposed this week as wholly inadequate and merely a repeat of a proposal already found wholly lacking.”

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Spokane Riverkeeper, North Sound Baykeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and Institute for Fisheries Resources.

Yesterday’s ruling comes on the heels of the state releasing its own draft rules, which are now being considered by EPA. From the Associated Press:

In submitting a plan to EPA Tuesday, state Ecology Director Maia Bellon called the standards “protective and achievable” and said it could be approved by federal regulators.

 

 

Critics say the state’s plan fails to protect fish consumers from PCBs and mercury, and provides too many loopholes. Some facilities would have years if not decades to comply with the new rules.

 

 

“How can the EPA approve a lesser plan when their own plan has identified the need for a higher standard?” asked Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.

Treaty Tribes in western Washington agree with this assessment that draft rules released earlier by the federal government are much more protective:

EPA proposed its own standards after years of delay by both the state Department of Ecology and the federal government in adopting rule revisions that would more accurately depict tribal fish consumption. Tribes are especially concerned about the outcome of this rule because tribal members routinely consume far more fish and shellfish than most residents.

 

“Now, it’s up to EPA to keep a firm hand on the bar that it has set and ensure that water quality standards are reviewed, improved and completed this year to meet the human health needs of everyone who lives here,” Loomis said.

In a post from April, Keep Seafood Clean gave a rough idea of how the state’s current proposal falls short when compared to the rules released by the federal government.