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Newhouse, McMorris Rodgers, Reichert, Herrera Beutler Urge EPA to Withdraw Federal Rule, Allow State to Determine Water Quality Standards

October 7, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) led a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging the EPA to withdraw its proposal to impose federal water quality standards, specifically Human Health Water Quality Criteria (HHWQC) on the State of Washington. The letter requests that the EPA follow federal guidelines and long-standing precedent by allowing Washington to determine the appropriate course of action to adopt its own human health water quality standards as prescribed in the Clean Water Act (CWA). The letter was signed by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA).

The Members wrote in the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

“We are greatly troubled by the continued actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) towards the State of Washington in its process to develop its own water quality standards as established by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  We are specifically concerned that EPA has now formally proposed to impose federal Human Health Water Quality Criteria (HHWQC) on the State via regulation. This is just the latest in a series of efforts by EPA to force Washington State into adopting standards that go well beyond what is required for states under the CWA, and ignores the primary and long-standing role states have in developing water quality standards established under the statute.”

The Members continued in the letter:

“Almost two years ago, several Members of Congress wrote to you to express their concern with EPA Region 10’s interference in the CWA water quality standards development process then underway in the states of Washington and Idaho. Since that time, Washington State has continued with its deliberative and open stakeholder processes to develop the HHWQC.  To date, that process resulted in the Department of Ecology’s proposed comprehensive package of HHWQC, as well as other measures intended to reduce risks and protect human health.  While Washington stakeholders have been involved in the process, which resulted in a rigorous, stringent standard, EPA has short circuited that process by proposing to impose even more restrictive criteria. These actions highlight the fact that EPA is attempting to pressure Washington into adopting criteria that are more burdensome and rigid than even the state’s original proposal, which the Washington State Department of Ecology withdrew from consideration earlier this summer after being notified by EPA that the proposal was inadequate.”

The Members continued:

“We expect EPA to allow the State of Washington and other states to complete their work developing protective and achievable HHWQC. We urge EPA to withdraw the proposed federal rule and let Washington determine the appropriate course of action to adopt its own human health water quality standards, as contemplated by the CWA.” 

Background:

Under the Clean Water Act, individual states are delegated significant authority to establish state water quality standards as long as they follow established federal criteria.  The State of Washington had been working on its own Human Health Water Quality Criteria (HHWQC) for several years. Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Ecology drafted a proposal that would comply with updated CWA requirements and create achievable goals for businesses and municipalities in the state.  However, EPA criticized the state’s proposed standards— even though they surpass what is required under EPA guidance—making clear the state’s proposal would be rejected. In response, the Department of Ecology withdrew the proposal.

Washington’s proposal included a Fish Consumption Rate (FCR) and Cancer Risk Level that is more stringent than required by EPA, but the Agency still released its own proposed rule on September 2nd, 2015 “that revises the current federal Clean Water Act human health water quality criteria applicable to waters under the state of Washington’s jurisdiction,” according to EPA’s press release. The EPA is now accepting public comment on the proposed federal water quality standards for Washington through November 13, 2015.

Click here or see below for the full text of the letter.

 

October 7, 2015

 

The Honorable Gina McCarthy

Administrator

United States Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20460

 

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

 

We are greatly troubled by the continued actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) towards the State of Washington in its process to develop its own water quality standards as established by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  We are specifically concerned that EPA has now formally proposed to impose federal Human Health Water Quality Criteria (HHWQC) on the State via regulation.  This is just the latest in a series of efforts by EPA to force Washington State into adopting standards that go well beyond what is required for states under the CWA, and ignores the primary and long-standing role states have in developing water quality standards established under the statute. 

Almost two years ago, several Members of Congress wrote to you to express their concern with EPA Region 10’s interference in the CWA water quality standards development process then underway in the states of Washington and Idaho. Since that time, Washington State has continued with its deliberative and open stakeholder processes to develop the HHWQC.  To date, that process resulted in the Department of Ecology’s proposed comprehensive package of HHWQC, as well as other measures intended to reduce risks and protect human health.  While Washington stakeholders have been involved in the process, which resulted in a rigorous, stringent standard, EPA has short circuited that process by proposing to impose even more restrictive criteria. These actions highlight the fact that EPA is attempting to pressure Washington into adopting criteria that are more burdensome and rigid than even the state’s original proposal, which the Washington State Department of Ecology withdrew from consideration earlier this summer after being notified by EPA that the proposal was inadequate.

EPA has consistently ignored its existing guidance and made clear that the Agency will disapprove Washington’s HHWQC unless the state uses extremely conservative cancer risk levels and fish consumption rates in the development of the HHWQC.  Additionally, EPA’s actions have the potential to set an adverse national precedent, as the logic it is using to ignore its existing policy could be applied in many other states. 

EPA’s proposed criteria are calculated in a manner that would be even more stringent than the unachievable ones previously adopted by Oregon, which was the first state in the region to adopt EPA’s preferred HHWQC as a result of EPA pressure.  In late 2013, a coalition comprised of Washington industry, municipalities, and counties released a study demonstrating that if Oregon’s standards were applied in Washington State, even with the most advanced technology available, facilities would not be able to meet the resulting CWA permit limits – and would potentially cost billions of dollars – all with little human health benefit.

We expect EPA to allow the State of Washington and other states to complete their work developing protective and achievable HHWQC.  We urge EPA to withdraw the proposed federal rule and let Washington determine the appropriate course of action to adopt its own human health water quality standards, as contemplated by the CWA. 

 

Sincerely: