The state’s most powerful industry groups, conservationists and tribes are arguing over the fish that ends up on your dinner table.
On Wednesday, the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee will hear testimony on a controversial Department of Environmental Quality water rule that uses fish consumption rates to determine acceptable water pollutant levels.
Here are the basics:
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Fish accumulate toxins and carcinogens from their habitat and pass small amounts of those on to the people who eat them. Some of those carcinogens occur naturally, while others are the result of pollution. The amount of toxins is small but the chemicals can build up over time, especially for those who eat large amounts of fish.
The EPA directed states to come up with risk assessments for their residents based on how much fish they eat. Idaho DEQ surveyed thousands of people, including anglers and tribal members, and held meetings with stakeholders over the course of three years. The Nez Perce Tribe and Shoshone Bannock Tribe also conducted surveys.
Based on that information, DEQ wrote the proposed rule, which updates criteria for 208 toxic substances found in water.
“In developing these rules, our No. 1 priority was to protect public health and that will always be our primary goal,” DEQ director John Tippets told the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee Monday.
If you take a look at public comments, almost no one is happy with the standards DEQ proposed.
According to the survey, members of Idaho’s American Indian tribes eat more fish than nontribal members. That puts tribal members at greater risk of getting cancer if water quality standards are based on lower fish consumption rates, regional tribal representatives argued.
“DEQ has proposed water quality standards for Idaho’s waters that were calculated using substantially reduced levels of protection for tribal people as compared to the general population,” wrote representatives from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
This is discriminatory (and) would result in disproportionate and disparate risk to tribal members.
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
AN EXPENSIVE PROPOSAL
On the other hand, industry groups and municipalities argue that the actual threat of cancer is miniscule, while the cost of meeting the proposed standard would be enormous for cities and businesses.
The Northwest Food Processors Association wrote that the proposed standards might not be achievable: “It should be noted that these unrealistic risk thresholds will result in significant expenditures to meet criteria that, at best, will provide negligible improvements for human or ecological health. These costs do not just impact the regulated community, but will impact all Idaho businesses and residents.”
Such a policy also imposes costs on cities, counties, ratepayers and industry of potentially several billion dollars.
American Forest and Paper Association
The American Forest and Paper Association agreed. “This policy would reduce potential cancer incidence by a fraction of a cancer case per year compared to criteria set at (a lower rate),” the association wrote. “But such a policy also imposes costs on cities, counties, ratepayers and industry of potentially several billion dollars, harming the economy of the state.”
What’s next: The Senate Resources and Conservation Committee will hear testimony on the proposed rule on Wednesday. Watch Friday’s Idaho Reports for more about the rule and water legislation.