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A broad group of stakeholders – business groups, labor unions, tribes, environmentalists – joined an effort, at Gov. Jay Inslee’s behest, to help update the state’s water quality standards. Washington’s standards are under the gun by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and without an update acceptable to the EPA, the agency might change Washington’s standards unilaterally.

Businesses and cities are greatly concerned that standards set too high would be unachievable and quite expensive. Jobs would be lost, they say, and water rates would skyrocket.

As part of the overall effort, Inslee called for a bill targeting “non-point” sources of toxins that make their way into water supplies. A compromise bill passed the House in March. In the Senate, both the environment and budget committees gave it “do pass” recommendations, but amid the negotiations and wrangling over the state budget in special session, the toxins bill was not brought to a vote in the Senate.

Inslee throws a monkeywrench
Many of the stakeholders advising Inslee on water quality assumed work on the water standards would continue and legislators could take another stab at passing the toxins bill next year. Instead, Inslee announced last week that without a toxins bill, he’s essentially scrapping the work already completed on water quality. The Spokesman-Review editorialized:

Last summer, Gov. Jay Inslee released a pragmatic plan to update the state’s clean-water standards. Friday, he walked away from the solution that was three years in the making and involved extensive collaboration among municipal, industrial and environmental stakeholders.

He not only scrapped the state’s best shot at cleaning up waterways, he gave many people reason to utter “never again” to invitations from government to help solve a problem.

The move surprised many. It also has some speculating that it may be a way for Inslee to get what he wants – very high water quality rules – without taking the blame for those rules and the costs that would result.

If the EPA intervened and set Washington’s standards to Oregon’s level – and the EPA Region 10 office has already indicated that’s the end result it wants to see – Inslee could conceivably say that it’s those darn legislators fault, not his. His tribal and environmental allies would score it as a victory. As for business, labor, and municipal interests, they may have a different take on that narrative.

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