Flickr/Jay Inslee
Washington Governor Jay Inslee at the State of the State address in January.

Inslee Weighs Tenfold Increase in Cancer Risk for Fish Eaters

Robert McClure, InvestigateWest
5/12/14

How much risk of cancer from eating fish is too much? Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has privately advanced a proposal that would likely pass legal muster but that worries Indian tribes and environmentalists. It would allow a tenfold increase in allowable cancer risk under the law.

It’s either that, the governor has told a panel of his advisers, or the state will have to consider regulatory breaks for polluters that the state has not traditionally granted in the past. For example: Giving factories, municipal sewage treatment plants and others who dump pollution into waterways 20 years or perhaps even more to come into compliance with new toxic-waste limits.

Caught in crossfire between Indian tribes and business interests, Inslee stepped into the controversy last spring after his predecessor, Christine Gregoire, short-circuited plans by the state Ecology Department to make water pollution rules more protective of people who eat a lot of fish. Gregoire’s move came a day after the former governor met with a senior Boeing Co. executive who strongly objected to tighter restrictions on toxic pollution, as InvestigateWest was the first to report.

Inslee’s first step was to organize a panel of advisers, including business and tribal officials. It was in front of that group in February that the governor laid out the choices as he saw them, according to several people who attended the meeting.

Now Inslee is on the verge of handing down orders to the state Ecology Department on how to proceed. It’s a decision fraught with political tension as Inslee has allies both in the tribes and in business.

“The governor came into this issue, inherited it, hearing both that this is going to kill business and hearing this is necessary to protect Washington citizens who are heavy fish consumers,” said Ted Sturdevant, who first pushed the tighter limits as director of Ecology and is now Inslee’s chief adviser on the issue. “He’s been looking for a path that does both—that protects people who eat a lot of fish and that doesn’t kill the economy.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly told Washington that the state must fix its system for regulating water pollution under the federal Clean Water Act.

RELATED: Fish Consumption Rate Needs Updating

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