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Washington's Lengthy Battle to Protect Water and Fish

Image courtesy of Taylor Simpson

Washington State is inspiring a movement to maintain the protection of water ecosystems and diminish the dumping of the most harmful poisons in the water (PCBs, mercury, and arsenic). A coalition in Washington State of conservation and commercial fishing organizations, united with regional Tribes, are leading the fight against the Trump-era water quality standards rollback. The EPA’s 2019 decision to reduce Washington’s water quality standards was fueled by a petition that was heavily influenced by the power plant industry, the single biggest source of airborne mercury pollution in the US. In June of 2020, Washington’s fishing and environmental alliance sued the EPA for stripping down protection standards for waterways. The EPA reconciled stating that the Trump Administration’s approval of the State Human Health Criteria (HHC) did not adequately protect people from toxins in the water and, not surprisingly, decided that Trump’s decision “may not be based on sound science”. In March of 2022, the EPA signed a ruling that restored Washington’s water protection and science-based criteria for human (and fish) health.

In 2009, a case was filed against the EPA for issuing operating permits TransAlta Centralia Generation. LLC (TransAlta), a power plant located near the Skookumchuck River. The claim accuses TransAlta of failing to control carbon dioxide, mercury, and nitrogen oxide emissions in addition to failing to require Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT). The EPA denied this motion, stating that the permit authority was not required to include specific emissions limits. State Implemented Plan (SIP) provision in the permit is a broadly sweeping request of maintaining compliance by way of record keeping and monitoring the plant’s operating discharge.

In 2016, another lawsuit was filed against the EPA. EPA was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act due to its inaccurate and outdated water quality standards. These standards of 6.5g of fish daily were previously based on vastly underestimated fish consumption in Washington State. This deviation is more noticeable in Native and Pacific Asian communities whose diet heavily relies on seafood. The Washington Department of Ecology (WADOE) published a report on their findings and found that the general population eats between 19–56g, while tribal members eat up to 797g daily. The EPA was found to have neglected these findings and instead opted for requiring businesses to create pollution plans to reduce toxins. This caused a delay in action to protect public health from the risk of cancers caused by exposure to these unregulated chemical pollutants.

In an effort to compensate for some of the negative externalities of businesses’ emissions in Washington State, the EPA’s West Coast collaborative the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), has administered grants that support the Biden Administration’s Justice40 goals.This campaign promises to ensure that at least 40% of federal climate investments go directly to frontline communities most affected by poverty and pollution. As of June, 2022, the EPA awarded $1,254,919 in DERA funding to federally recognized tribes in Washington to reduce harmful emissions from stationary diesel generators and marine vessels. This incentive could be a catalyst to holding heavy industries accountable for their environmental impact. To find out more visit and to volunteer visit




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