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Inslee Pitches New Water Quality Rules; Groups Hear "More of Same"

PHOTO: Washington's favorite entree is one reason Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed an update to the state's water quality laws. But commercial fishing and water-keepers' groups are already in court asking the EPA to step in. Photo credit: gbh007/iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Washington's favorite entree is one reason Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed an update to the state's water quality laws. But commercial fishing and water-keepers' groups are already in court asking the EPA to step in. Photo credit: gbh007/iStockphoto.com.
July 10, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing an update to the state's water quality rules. On its surface, it sounds like good news for fans of Northwest-caught seafood. But commercial fishermen and four 'water-keeper' organizations are saying it's too little, too late.

They're in federal court, asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish tougher standards for dumping hazardous waste into waterways.

Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper, said changes to the state rules should already have been made.

The Washington State Department of Health posts restrictions on eating fish caught from certain lakes and rivers on its website. These include a warning to eat no more than two meals a month of resident Chinook salmon from Puget Sound. Health officials have determined PCB contamination made the fish unsafe to eat in greater quantities.

"What we're talking about is not consumption advice," said Wilke. "It's about water quality standards to prevent a worsening of our wastewater discharges."

He added the governor's proposal does not change the standard for PCB amounts.

Gov. Inslee acknowledged that the current standards are out of date, focus on industrial waste, and don't account for a new generation of toxic chemicals. He has proposed a draft plan from the Ecology Department by the end of September.

The groups asking the EPA to step in say they appreciate the latest push. But attorney Jannette Brimmer with Earthjustice, who represents the groups, said it sounds like another delay.

"For the last several years, the state makes a deadline and breaks it, makes a deadline and breaks it," explained Brimmer. "This has happened repeatedly under two administrations. They push it out roughly another six months, but that six months comes and goes. This is just another in a long string."

Water-keeper groups say they're glad the state's new calculations increase the average amount of fish that people can safely eat. But they also decrease the risk rates for non-cancer-causing chemicals, resulting in changes the groups say aren't sufficient or realistic.

The governor's announcement on Wednesday also included the release of a new Clean Water Policy Brief.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA