Nine local governments and companies fear environmental regulators aren’t moving fast enough to help them meet tough new Spokane River water-quality standards.
They say a system for trading cleanup credits across the Washington-Idaho state line is essential, but state officials may not share their sense of urgency.
Spokane County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls told county commissioners Tuesday that Washington and Idaho environmental agencies need to collaborate, but “I’m not confident that is happening.”
Rawls said state officials hadn’t invited the county and other effluent dischargers to help craft a trading plan, even though “we are the ones who have to make it work.”
However, officials of the Washington Department of Ecology, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that they are committed to developing a credit-trading system.
The EPA must approve the program and is responsible for issuing discharge permits in Idaho.
The state and federal agencies plan a joint meeting in mid-July to plan their strategy. After developing some ideas of their own, regulators intend to get advice from dischargers, environmental groups and the public.
Spokane County is one of eight river dischargers that have banded with dam-operator Avista Corp. to seek a means of working together on the new “total maximum daily load” standards that were adopted in May.
The coalition – known as the Spokane River Stewardship Partners – hopes to prevent its most vulnerable members from filing lawsuits that could delay implementation of the standards.
Placing the standards on hold could keep Spokane County from opening a new $167 million sewage treatment plant in time to prevent a construction moratorium in Spokane Valley.
Stakes also are high for Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board and the Inland Empire Paper mill in Millwood. The three municipal treatment plant operators fear strangulation of growth, and the paper mill says it can’t meet the standards with any available technology.
Inland Empire Paper is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Fearing regulators would issue new discharge permits this summer without a credit-trading program, the Stewardship Partners called for DOE, DEQ and EPA officials to meet with them by July 2.
The regulators said development of a trading system will be lengthy, and a meeting by next Friday would be far too soon.
Spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said the Department of Ecology plans to issue new permits to the Washington dischargers by this fall. An advisory committee to oversee the planned trading program in Washington will have its first meeting about the same time, Gilbert said.
She said plans call for the new permits to give dischargers two years to identify the cleanup credits they want to buy or sell once a trading framework is in place.
Implementation of the new river standards would be phased in over as many as 10 years, Gilbert said.
Christine Psyk, associate regional EPA watershed director, said the agency plans to issue new Idaho discharge permits by the end of the year.
Dan Redline, Coeur d’Alene regional administrator for the Idaho DEQ, said his department and the Idaho dischargers have told the EPA they “certainly want the permits to include the option for trading.”
Psyk declined to say whether the permits will mention trading, but said “we’re communicating that we’re anticipating allowing trading once a framework is in place.”
A trading system can be developed during the years it will take to phase in the new regulations, and discharge permits can be modified if necessary, Psyk said.
Rawls said a verbal commitment is “not very satisfactory.”
“They don’t have to have the details of the trading program in the permit,” he said. “But the permit needs to say that trading will be available.”