June 17, 2014 in City, Washington

Unions oppose tough state water quality standards

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Washington state is rushing toward water quality standards that will be too strict and cost jobs without being backed up by good science, leaders of unions with workers in aerospace, timber and paper industries claimed Monday.

But a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee said the union leaders are jumping the gun because no decision has been made. What many call the fish consumption standards are still under review, he said.

A handful of union leaders called a news conference Monday to say they are convinced the state is headed for tough new standards that will allow far lower levels of toxic chemicals in Washington’s streams, rivers and bays.

Chip Elliott, a representative of the state’s woodworkers unions, said Washington should wait until new scientific studies are done on the effects of those chemicals on people who eat fish from those waters, the amount of fish they eat, and whether the very low standards being considered can be properly measured by existing equipment.

Joe Crockett, a union official who represents some Boeing machinists, said he was worried the aerospace giant will pull its assembly lines for new jetliners out of Washington if the rules are too strict. “They’ll go somewhere else,” Crockett said.

The union officials said they were convinced the state would enact an unreasonable level, even though they didn’t know what the level would be. But David Postman, a spokesman for Inslee, said they were mistaken. The governor is still talking to people who have a stake in the new levels, including the unions.

“There is no proposal,” Postman said. “They’re reacting to something as if it exists; it doesn’t exist.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Washington to revise some of its water quality standards. Among the concerns are the level of carcinogens in fish and other seafood, and the average amount of that food people eat. Right now, the fish consumption levels are relatively low – far lower than what’s eaten by some Native Americans and others who rely mainly on seafood for the protein in their diets.

The state Department of Ecology is studying the issue and Inslee will be proposing a new level of toxics later this summer, Postman said. But that’s not the end of the process. Under state law, the department will then have six months of hearings and discussions, during which the proposed rules will be reviewed and possibly amended.

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