COLUMN: Allow States, Not Federal Bureaucrats, to Set Clean Water Guidelines

October 12, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

In the latest in a string of attempts to impose bureaucratic federal control over Washington state waters, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is threatening to impose its own rules on the state. Despite the fact that the state’s proposal already meets required federal guidance, EPA has issued such as threat.  EPA needs to take a step back and follow their own guidelines rather than interfering with states’ authority under the law.

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), individual states have significant authority and the responsibility to establish state water quality standards as long as they follow certain federal criteria. Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Ecology drafted a proposal that would comply with updated CWA requirements. The standards to reduce cancer risks and protect human health were rigorous, while at the same time they were arrived at with input from businesses and municipalities in the state.

Washington’s proposal included a Fish Consumption Rate (FCR) and Cancer Risk Level that were even more stringent than required by EPA, but the Agency still criticized the state’s proposed standards, making clear they would be rejected. Then EPA released its own revised proposed rule on September 2 of this year. After the EPA moved the goal post, the Department of Ecology responded by withdrawing its own proposal from consideration earlier this summer.

The EPA is now threatening to force burdensome federal water quality regulations on the state unless Washington complies with costly and arbitrary new standards. As a result of similar EPA pressure, Oregon was the first state in the Pacific Northwest to adopt EPA’s preferred standards. A 2013 study showed that if Oregon’s standards were applied in Washington, 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 negligible health benefits.

This is not the first time EPA has tried a water power grab at the expense of states and localities.

Earlier this year, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that would expand the federal government’s authority over waters that have a “significant nexus” with a navigable body of water, which includes streams, ditches, and ponds. The proposed rule would increase the regulatory burden and uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, localities, and small businesses. I supported legislation in the House to force the EPA to withdraw its rule. And just last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit blocked enforcement of the new WOTUS regulation across the nation.

Last week, I urged the EPA to respect federal guidelines, and our state’s rights by allowing the State of Washington to complete its work developing protective and achievable water quality standards under the CWA. The EPA should follow its own guidelines and withdraw the proposed federal rule. This Administration continues its bad habit of imposing burdensome and costly regulations. The EPA must respect states’ authority and jurisdiction over their own waters and clean water standards.