Washington Farm Bureau Seeks Role in Fish-rule Suit

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The Washington Farm Bureau and the wood-products industry are seeking to intervene on the side of the Trump administration in a lawsuit filed by Washington over the state’s fish-consumption rule.

The Farm Bureau and the other trade groups are waiting for a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle to rule on their motion to join the suit. They argue they should be represented in court because their members face unreasonably stringent rules if the state wins.

Washington opposes their participation in court proceedings. The state says the business organizations have nothing to add to the Trump administration’s defense and would slow the case down.

The state’s lawsuit stems from the Environmental Protection Agency this year overturning water-quality standards imposed on Washington by the Obama EPA in 2016. The standards are meant to minimize the risk of getting cancer from a lifetime of eating fish and shellfish harvested in Washington or up to 3 miles off the coast.

In striking down the Obama EPA rules, the Trump EPA restored standards developed and previously championed by the Inslee administration’s Department of Ecology.

In 2016, Ecology’s position was that it had developed standards that would improve water quality and protect human health, including the health of tribal members who eat a lot of fish.

Now, Ecology’s position is that the Trump EPA violated the Clean Water Act by not consulting the state or tribes before withdrawing the Obama EPA standards.

Washington responded in June with Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s 39th lawsuit against the Trump administration. The number grew to 50 recently with a lawsuit challenging revisions to the Endangered Species Act.

The water-quality standards limit pollutants that factories are permitted to discharge into waterways. Ecology said the standards it set would raise the risk of getting cancer by one in 1 million for a 170-pound person who ate 6 ounces of fish per day for 70 years. The Obama EPA largely rejected the standards for most pollutants, saying they were not protective enough of tribal treaty rights.

The Farm Bureau says farmers and ranchers would face more restrictions as regulators chase after unattainable clean-water goals.

Tribes and environmental groups support the state’s bid to uphold the Obama EPA rules. The state says its lawsuit is purely a “procedural challenge” to the Trump administration’s handling of the Clean Water Act and not a comment on the merits of the standards it developed, but now wants to see discarded.

The Trump EPA’s action was driven by a petition filed by the Farm Bureau and other business groups. Ferguson accused the EPA of acting “at the whim of industry interests.” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said the EPA bowed to “short-sighted industry desires.”

The Northwest Pulp and Paper Association has taken the lead in pressing for industry to be able to participate in the lawsuit. Besides the Farm Bureau, the other groups in the effort are the American Forest and Paper Association, Western Wood Preservers Institute and Treated Wood Council.

The state does not oppose a pending motion by the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe to intervene in opposition to the Trump administration. The Quinault Indian Nation also has moved to participate.


Posted By: Capital Press, Don Jenkins

Posted On: 10/7/19