Guest Column: Inslee seeks to expand Ecology’s reach, authority

John Braun, August 3, 2014, The Daily News

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement regarding Washington’s water quality standards includes a dramatic proposal that raises many red flags for communities and families throughout the state.


There is consensus that it is time to update our water standards. No one is suggesting that we should do less to protect our environment, but the goal must be to balance cleaner water with protecting family budgets and jobs. What we don’t need is another war on jobs with more uncertainty and threats of regulations that are impossible to measure or attain.


In addition to new rules on water quality standards, Gov. Inslee said that it was time to “take a broader approach to areas that are not currently regulated.” He defined those areas as “up stream at the source,” and that “the majority of toxins come from what we build.”


What we build in Washington happens through big and small manufacturing companies that employ more than 300,000 people and contribute more than $26 billion a year to the state’s economy. Many of these companies, such as Simpson Timber and PDM Steel in Cowlitz County, are the economic foundation and lifeblood for hundreds of communities throughout the state.


Fortunately, Washington already has some of the most stringent environmental protections in the nation, and our businesses and communities are committed to preserving our state’s natural resources. However, these proposed regulations are overly burdensome and unrealistic.


The governor’s proposal, called the Toxin Reduction package, includes giving the Department of Ecology expanded authority to ban certain chemicals and require companies to use new “green chemicals.” The proposal also expands DOE’s reach into local governments to force change through the permitting process and into areas not currently covered by permitting. The most serious consequence of the changes is that the science and technology don’t even exist to comply with some of the new regulations, and the alternatives are too costly for many businesses to bear.


Banning certain chemicals or demanding that companies remove components when no alternatives exist makes the governor’s retaliatory approach unworkable and harmful to our economic health. An annual $2,400 increase in utility bills would be devastating for working families across the state.


Given Gov. Inslee’s actions, the red flags warn of far reaching impacts to our high-wage manufacturing jobs and potential increases in utility and sewer bills. The City of Bellingham predicts that, if Washington adopts water quality standards similar to Oregon, city sewer bills could increase from $35 up to $200 per month. This would impose a huge financial burden on low and middle-income families and households on fixed-incomes.


As chairman of the State Senate Trade and Economic Committee, I know that economic growth requires our state to effectively compete with other states and the world for jobs. Just look at the 20 states that jumped into the fierce competition for Boeing’s 777X program. This does not mean that we should ignore water quality issues; but that our efforts should instead be focused on standards that are practical, measurable and attainable. The proposed regulations achieve none of those things and more likely will reduce our state’s ability to compete for jobs and place a large burden on communities and families.


The governor wants to give unelected bureaucrats in the Department of Ecology more power and authority over how we build things in Washington. This is an enormous burden for smaller companies that are not equipped to deal with the costs. In the manufacturing sector, 52 percent of companies employ 20 or fewer people. How will they be impacted by these new regulations?


Many of us remember the spotted owl battles of the late 1980s. Communities in the crosshairs of that environmental battle have never recovered. Our mountains, lakes and streams are a large part of what makes living in Washington so wonderful but so are the high-wage jobs that support our families. Our goal must be to preserve and balance both.

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