Inslee's pollution solution: tackle water toxics at source

SEATTLE (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing legislation to protect state waters by tackling pollution at its source and giving a state agency the authority to potentially ban the worst chemicals in products before they get into the environment.

The state is under pressure by the Environmental Protection Agency to update water quality standards that are partly tied to how much fish people eat.

The state's draft rule is expected this month. But the governor has said revising that rule alone won't get at major sources of toxic chemicals that are found in everyday products, or that come from sources not currently covered by the federal Clean Water Act.

As part of his plan, he's also pushing a toxics reduction bill this legislative session that would give the Department of Ecology new authority to identify chemicals that are most problematic and ban their use if safer alternatives are found. The 105-day session begins Monday.

Rob Duff, a senior policy adviser for the governor, said Wednesday that the state is on target to complete the clean-water rule, but "to just do that really won't be effective."

This would "go after the source, so we don't have to dig and permit our way out of the pollution," he said, adding that it doesn't make sense to ask dischargers to remove contaminants that they're not responsible for.

Under the measure, Ecology would come up with a list of up to 150 "priority chemicals," or ones that raise concerns, according a draft bill released this week.

The agency would then narrow that list down to about 20 of the most problematic and, with public input, create plans on how to reduce their use, ranging from education to potentially a ban. The chemicals must be shown to harm the environment and human health.

If a safer alternative exists, Ecology could prohibit specific uses of the chemical or ban the sale or distribution of products containing that chemical.

The American Chemistry Council said it believes the best approach to strengthening chemical regulation is to reform the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. That would allow businesses to operate under a clear set of regulations, "instead of having to deal with a confusing and sometimes contradictory patchwork of state rules," the group said in a statement.

The EPA, which must approve the state's plan, is watching closely what the state does. The federal agency says it plans to come up with rules for Washington state in case the state fails to act this year.

The governor has said the state plan won't be finalized until he seeks legislative approval for his toxics reduction package.

Inslee is also proposing $12 million in the next two-year budget to help communities reduce the use of toxic chemicals, help businesses develop safer chemicals and monitor residents' exposure to chemicals.

Last July, following over two years of heated debate, the governor proposed a clean-water rule that dramatically raises the fish consumption rate to 175 grams a day to protect people who eat about a serving of fish a day. The state's current standard assumes people only eat about 6.5 grams of fish a day, or roughly one fillet a month.

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