Employer groups hail EPA decision to rescind federal water quality rule to make way for state-developed regulation.

This is good news.

A coalition of employer trade groups today applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcement that it will rescind a federal water quality rule the agency previously had imposed on the State of Washington. The move makes way for implementation of a rigorous clean water rule developed by the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The agency’s announcement follows many months of consideration. 

On July 23, 2019, EPA Administer Wheeler signed a proposed rule to withdraw certain federal Clean Water Act (CWA) human health criteria for waters under the State of Washington’s jurisdiction. This rule is being proposed because on May 10, 2019, EPA approved, after reconsideration, the human health criteria water quality standards that Washington State originally submitted to the Agency in 2016. The EPA determined the State’s criteria are protective of its designated uses, based on sound science, and consistent with the CWA. EPA now proposes to withdraw the corresponding federally promulgated water quality standards for Washington.

The Lens reported on the May decision. Bloomberg News reports here on yesterday’s announcement.

The employer group’s media release notes the history.

In February 2017, the employer trade groups requested that the EPA reconsider its earlier decision to reject the state-developed standards and impose a federal mandate in its place. The groups argued that the state’s rule offered an extremely protective approach to water quality which was significantly more stringent than the water quality standards that were in place before development of these new standards. At the same time, they agreed that these stringent new state standards were achievable with significant investment and effort.

The employer group included eight primary petitioners to EPA: Northwest Pulp & Paper Association; American Forest & Paper Association; Association of Washington Business; Greater Spokane Incorporated; Treated Wood Council; Western Wood Preservers Institute; Utility Water Act Group; and Washington Farm Bureau.

The release includes statements from each group. Among them, 

Gary Chandler, vice president of government affairs for the Association of Washington Business, said the EPA’s decision to accept the state rule means that everyone in Washington – regulators, permit holders, local governments, and others – can now focus on implementing the standards, knowing that investments in water quality improvement will result in both compliance and measurable improvement in water quality.

“Working together on implementing achievable standards developed by Washington stakeholders and Washington regulators will better serve all the citizens of the state than an unattainable standard that results in failure and uncertainty for permit holders,” he said.

The group also points out the rigorous standard previously adopted by the state.

The state’s clean water rule was adopted and submitted to EPA after more than four years of public process, including multi-stakeholder consultation, Ecology technical science and policy review under the Administrative Procedures Act, a full State Environmental Policy Act review process, and multiple opportunities for public comment.

But the rule imposed by the EPA in 2016 – and now being rescinded – overturned the state’s work and would have created unattainable and technologically infeasible water quality standards for local governments and private entities alike.

Again, from Chandler.

“Most of the standards imposed on the state by EPA in 2016 could not be met with existing or foreseeable technologies,” said Chandler. “In contrast, the state-developed standards give local employers an opportunity to work on water quality improvement without the potential loss of family- wage jobs, and allow local governments to control costs for wastewater treatment while benefitting all ratepayers with meaningful water quality improvement.”