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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dan Wilson: Don’t sacrifice jobs for unattainable water quality standards

Dan Wilson

As a 46-year union member and proud supporter of the Blue-Green Alliance, I’ve never accepted the idea we had to choose between a clean environment and good, family-wage jobs; I believe we can have both.

The reaction of our state’s leadership to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to reinstate water quality standards that Washington state put in place in 2016, and to now instead support EPA’s more stringent water quality standards that were put in place, is simply not the solution.

The Washington State Department of Ecology painstakingly worked with stakeholders for four years to develop the 2016 update to the state’s water quality standards. The state’s attorney general is now suing to block EPA’s proposed action, and the governor, who previously praised Ecology for developing the 2016 updated standards, now says EPA’s proposal to return to the 2016 standards won’t effectively protect Washington residents.

This about-face poses two problems. First, Ecology in developing the 2016 update to the water quality standards followed EPA’s guidance with respect to the protection of human health. The state’s leadership is now saying, by opposing EPA’s proposed action, that the 2016 level of protection that was built into the updated water quality standards is no longer adequate. Second, state leadership’s opposition to return to Ecology’s 2016 update of the water quality standard means that they support standards for which there is no current technology that can achieve compliance.

In my experience, companies and communities are willing to invest when they see that the result will be meaningful improvements in our environment and they have certainty that their efforts will result in compliance with standards.

Uncertainty is bad news for working men and women. Employers need some level of certainty to make multimillion dollar investments, not only in better wastewater treatment equipment, but also in facility and process upgrades that keep companies competitive, protect current family-wage jobs, and create opportunities to increase employment.

We recently celebrated Labor Day. It’s much more than a three-day weekend to mark the end of summer. It’s a holiday to honor the workers who built and continue to drive our state and national economy.

Washington state’s leaders say all the right things about Labor Day. However, to put that spirit into action they should stop pitting environmental protection against jobs. Accept, and even celebrate, the fact that our state-developed water quality standards provide incredible protection for our citizens while simultaneously enabling a vibrant economy and more family-wage job opportunities for our citizens.

Daniel R. Wilson is president of United Steelworkers Local 338.

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