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Groups Sue EPA Over Water Quality And Fish Consumption Rate

Ted S. Warren
AP Images
Tribal fisherman Dwayne Ross Sr., left, and his daughter Freda, right, both Muckleshoot Indians, pull in a salmon net, a right exercised under the historic 1974 federal court decision that restored tribal access to "usual and accustomed" fishing grounds.

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for not updating Washington state’s water quality rules on how much fish people eat. It’s what's commonly known as the “fish consumption rate.”

Last month, the state Department of Ecology released a long-awaited draft rule on the issue. But the groups, which include Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, say local officials are still dragging their feet. They argue and the state rule is not in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. 

The groups argue the EPA has violated the law by not finalizing its own standards to protect public health. The rules limit pollutants that can be released into waterways and determine how much legacy pollution must be removed. Toxics such as PCBs and mercury can accumulate in fish, so the rule looks at how much fish is eaten, especially by groups such as tribes that depend on salmon and shellfish.  

Janette Brimmer is an attorney with the non-profit Earthjustice, which brought the legal action. She says the EPA showed some progress in the decades-long fight this past fall, but delayed enforcement until December.

“But there’s still been no action since then. And I think that EPA is waiting for the state to do something," Brimmer said, adding that she is not sure why the agency won't enforce their own rule, while Oregon has forged ahead with a standard that is 27 times as stringent as what Washington currently has on the books.

"You know, I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve waited for the state, just in the period of time I’ve been working on this. And of course tribes have been waiting much longer,“ said Brimmer.

The lawsuit says the federal agency should have finalized its own rules in December and that any delay increases the harm to people who depend on clean water. 

In response to the legal action, the EPA’s Region 10 office released a statement saying its proposal in September should ensure the protection of people who eat fish in Washington state. But the agency said it will not comment on the new lawsuit because it is active litigation.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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