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Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB-pollution cleanup plan

Federal Judge approves EPA plan to be completed by September 2024

News release

For immediate release

Contacts:

John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com  (509) 951-3952

Marc Zemel marc.zemel@gmail.com  (206) 805-0857

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com (509) 808-0118

Maggie Franquemont  MFranquemont@celp.org  (206) 829-8299

Ted Knight ted@tcklaw.com (509) 953-1908

Link:  Consent Decree

Spokane – The Spokane River and the hundreds of thousands who live near and along this treasured waterway have won a major victory with a federal judge’s approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agreement to issue a mandated cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs polluting the river. The Judge’s ruling culminates a 10-year legal battle waged by Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the federal lawsuit to enforce the federal law requiring an EPA clean-up plan after decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

“We need to get cancer out of the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner who volunteers with the Spokane River Team of the Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club. “We waited 15 years for Washington’s state government to do its job under the law before filing the lawsuit. After more than a decade in court, this win for the Spokane River means the cleanup plan finally will get done. Now EPA will be responsible for the Spokane River’s PCB cleanup plan.”

PCBs are dangerous to life including human life because they cause cancer and other diseases.  Tiny amounts in water concentrate as they move up the food chain. For many years, Washington’s Department of Health has issued a health advisory on human consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” approved today by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein, EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for PCB’s within three years. A TMDL is a science-based approach to clean up polluted water in order to meet  State water-quality standards. A TMDL is a numerical value that represents the highest amount of a pollutant a surface water body can receive and still meet the standards.  For the Spokane River the TMDL will allocate the PCB pollution load to each of five identified PCB dischargers.

“EPA is the safety net when Washington State is unable to do its job cleaning up water pollution,” said John Allison, a Spokane River Team member. “We look forward to working with EPA in restoring and protecting the Spokane River for generations to come.”

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S.  All PCBs entering the river are from old sources except for one:  Inland Empire Paper Co., which imports newsprint containing PCBs.  The other four government identified PCB dischargers are Kaiser Aluminum, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants. All five entities have discharge pipes that are permitted by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). Currently the State’s pollution permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River.  The TMDL will change how PCBs are regulated in the Spokane River watershed.
 

“We need clean, flowing water for the return of salmon,” said Kathy Dixon of the Spokane River Team. “Salmon along with our children and the river’s life are compelling reasons to comply with federal law and move forward with a science-based, river-protecting cleanup plan.

“The Spokane River will need ongoing community vigilance with government processes,” continued Dixon. “River advocates will need to ensure that the EPA develops a legally defensible PCB TMDL to meet all applicable water quality standards, including those of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.”

“We are happy to see this court case closed and look forward to a cleaner healthier Spokane River,” said Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s (CELP) Executive Director.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.


Washington Water Watch: January Edition 2022

Happy New Year, Friends! CELP is entering 2022 focused on our mission to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s waters. 

It has been a difficult couple years between the pandemic and increasing climate disasters. We hope you have been staying safe. The year started with extreme winter storms. Extensive rain and snow caused flooding, avalanches, and road closures. As the climate warms, storms increase in intensity.

We are ready to tackle water and climate issues. CELP’s priorities for 2022 are protecting and restoring adequate, healthy streamflows, honoring tribal rights and partnering with Tribes on water issues, adding and increasing water use efficiency standards and water conservation efforts, advocating for sustainable and equitable water policies and management, and increasing collaboration on water issues.

Our year is off to a busy start with a short legislative session. We are working hard in Olympia to stop bad water policies and pass bills that protect our water resources and salmon.

We have accomplished a lot to protect our waters with the help of our supporters. You can help protect our waters by signing up for lobby week, contacting your legislators, sharing CELP’s work and posts, and supporting our work by making a donation today.

In this issue you will find information on our 4th annual Clean & Abundant Water Lobby Week, additional CELP priority bills, a study linking low water flows and low salmon returns, an introduction of our newest CELP board member, a posting for CELP’s summer legal internship, an article on how climate change impacts snow patterns, and water and fish news.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read the full newsletter HERE


Urge your Representatives to Support Salmon Recovery

Salmon are in trouble! You can help!

We are working to make certain there will be salmon for the next seven generations“- Lorraine Loomis

Some Puget Sound salmon species have declined by 90% compared to historical populations. To avoid extinction, bold action is needed now.

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery package is a good starting point. The Lorraine Loomis Act (HB 1838), named after longtime salmon champion, Lorraine Loomis (Swinomish Tribe, and Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission) requires properly functioning riparian management zones around rivers and streams, including healthy vegetation to maintain cool waters essential to salmon habitat. It also increases the focus on salmon recovery in land use planning for the future, with important financial assistance, monitoring, and accountability to address the urgency of the salmon crisis.

The Lorraine Loomis Act is a top legislative priority for the Tribes and environmental organizations. CELP supports this bill and stands behind the Tribes. Requiring green corridors for riparian lands will protect salmon and clean and abundant water, protect indigenous and Tribal Treaty rights to fish, and ensure more healthy and resilient ecosystems that will better withstand the effects of our changing climate.

Salmon are a keystone species connecting everything. Their wellbeing is intertwined with our environment, economy, culture, and more. Our future must include salmon in Washington.

Salmon need your help! Your voice is critical to helping pass this bill. Legislators need to hear from you. Salmon are on the verge of extinction, so we must act now.

ACT NOW! Support this important legislation by emailing your House Representatives. Find your legislative district, email your Representatives, and urge them to support HB 1838!


Washington Water Watch: End of Year Edition

Dear Friends,

We are wishing you very happy holidays and hope you are doing well!

This year, as we all continued to be impacted by the COVID pandemic, CELP went through some big changes and accomplished exciting victories. We welcomed two new staff members, Maggie Franquemont as Staff Attorney, and Hillary Jasper Rose as Water Policy & Outreach Coordinator. We have adopted a hybrid working style as we build our team and the world continues to largely run over Zoom.

With the help of an incredible support system we achieved great things in 2021. CELP successfully encouraged the Department of Ecology to select the Nooksack River Basin (WRIA 1) as well as the Roosevelt Lake and middle tributaries (WRIA 58) as the next Washington basins to be adjudicated in coordination with the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation. We hosted our 3rd annual Clean & Abundant Water Lobby day as a virtual week long event helping pass bills for funding river basin adjudication, reducing plastic pollution, preventing seabed mining, and water re-use. CELP helped get a Watershed plan for WRIA 9 approved that would replace water used by new permit exempt well in the Green River watershed. We protected the Skagit River by submitting comments to Ecology in support of their denial of the proposed Golden Eagle water permit. We reached a settlement with the EPA on the Spokane River PCB levels. CELP also submitted comments to Ecology urging reform of Water Banking and the Trust Water Rights programs to curb water rights speculation.

We have accomplished a lot to protect our rivers. As we wrap up the year and look forward to our work in 2022, CELP has big goals. We plan to not only continue our work protecting waters in Washington but take a more proactive role in restoring our waters and fighting for more sustainable and equitable water policies and management.
You can help protect our waters by making an end of year gift to CELP. We are incredibly thankful to have met our $10,000 goal and match! Now our loyal supporter is increasing their donation to match donations dollar for dollar up to $15,000. Help us reach our new goal and be ready to tackle the legislative session and year ahead. You can also help further our mission by sharing our work with your friends and family.

You make our work protecting, preserving, and restoring waters in Washington possible! We are incredibly thankful for our supporters, members, partners, Board of Directors, volunteers, sponsors, staff, and community. Thank you for your dedication to protecting our water resources.

In this issue you will find an update on the Spokane River PCB case with a call to action, our comments on an Airway Heights water right application, information on the Salmon Recovery Plan, our thoughts on Puget Sound Partnership’s State of the Sound report, an article on water speculation, water and fish news, a recap on our Celebrate Water event, an announcement that we postponed our CLE workshop series with new dates TBA, and information on ways to support CELP.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read Full Newsletter Here


Spokane River PCB Win & Call to Action

Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB pollution cleanup plan in EPA settlement

30-day public comment period opens:  please write in support

On December 1 in the Federal Register, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its settlement with Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and plaintiff-intervenor, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, committing the agency to prepare a cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs that severely pollute the Spokane River.  For the River and life that depends on it, this settlement caps 25 years of advocacy, including 10 years of litigation filed by Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and intervenor Spokane Tribe of Indians. Our lawsuit sought to enforce the Clean Water Act mandate for an EPA cleanup plan, necessary because of decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

PCBs are a dangerous chemical that harms aquatic and human life, causing cancer and other diseases. Tiny amounts of the toxin concentrate as it moves up the food chain. The Washington Department of Health’s public health advisory, issued many years ago and still in effect, warns against consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) by September 2024. A TMDL is a science-based pollution cleanup plan.  This one will be designed to ensure that the Spokane River meets protective water quality standards issued by Washington state and the Spokane Tribe.

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S. Most PCBs entering the Spokane River pre-date the ban, with one major exception: Inland Empire Paper Co. (IEP) recycles paper printed with imported inks that contain PCBs. 

The TMDL will require significant reductions in PCB pollution discharged to the Spokane River by the five industrial and municipal treatment plants located in Washington. In addition to IEP, Kaiser Aluminum and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants each discharge PCBs to the river. All five discharge pipes are permitted by the Washington Department of Ecology, but these permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River. The TMDL will change that.

The PCB cleanup plan is especially significant because of heavy use of the Spokane River by the public for recreation and the consumption of fish.
 

The settlement includes a 30-day public comment period. We will then present the settlement to the federal court for approval. Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel and Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC, a Seattle law firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Take Action and help a distressed river!  Deadline is January 3, 2022.

Click here to write your comment:

https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/EPA-HQ-OGC-2021-0828-0001

Consider making the following points:

  1. Most importantly, thank EPA and express your support for preparation of the PCB cleanup plan.  Public uses require a clean river.
  2. Insist that the cleanup plan be based on sound science. 
  3. Ask EPA to use state-of-the-art testing technology to measure PCBs.
  4. As a matter of human health and environmental justice, ask EPA to ensure that the cleanup plan complies with applicable water quality standards.

Contact the Spokane River Team for further questions:

John Osborn john@waterplanet.ws

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com

John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com

Tom Soeldner  waltsoe@allmail.net

Rachael Osborn. rdpaschal@earthlink.net


Washington Water Watch: October Edition

Dear Friends,

We hope you’ve enjoyed the few sunny October days and are doing well. During the rainy season, don’t be tricked into thinking we don’t have water supply issues. We will hear forecasts of endless days of rain, but it is important to remember to keep conversations on water use efficiency and conservation going. We still need to protect our water resources. It is also important to be prepared for floods and have an emergency kit for storms and power outages.

The climate is warming and our weather patterns and natural disasters are going to be more extreme. Over time we will have even wetter winters, but more precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. Less snowpack will exacerbate water issues in the summer. Summers will continue to get drier and drought and fire season, longer. The west is already facing a megadrought. Timing is everything.

We need to take this time of year to think about how we can affect water policy in the coming legislative session, what we can do on a local level to increase conservation efforts, and how we can bring people together to create more equitable water management.

With the end of the year approaching, we are excited to be hosting our Celebrate Water reception and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop series. We are thrilled to be planning Celebrate Water as an in-person event and truly hope to see you soon.

In this issue you will find an update on the Golden Eagle/Darrington water permit application, an article on conservation in water management at different levels, information on a huge Clean Water Act victory, a survey on email communication, water and fish news, details on Celebrate Water and our CLE workshops, registration for the One River, Ethics Matter conference, and ways to support CELP’s work protecting Washington’s waters.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read the full newsletter here.


Washington Water Watch: September Edition

Dear friends,
As we are finally starting to see rain again, we reflect on a surprising water year. Hydrologist track and measure water on a different time cycle than a standard calendar year. A water year is measured from October 1st through September 30th. As a new water year is about to start we look back to see what patterns might continue.
This summer showed us that even in years with great winter and spring snowpack, our waters are in trouble. With extreme heat and parched land, snowpack melted quickly. Areas that don’t rely on snowpack, but rather precipitation, are in even more trouble since they received below average precipitation for much of the year. As drought seasons become longer and temperatures warmer, this pattern will continue. Low flows, warm rivers, dry wells, and more will continue to be bigger issues for everyone.
CELP will continue to work for better water management and not let progress towards water conservation and water use efficiency take the back burner during the rainy season. More needs to be done for our waters. We all rely on healthy, abundant waterways.
10 years ago in September the world’s largest dam removal project was started on the Elwha River. Dam removal has helped restore the estuary, river, and wildlife but recovery is ongoing. Now as more dams projects are proposed, CELP continues to fight for our rivers, fish, and treaty rights. We are working to help stop the Chehalis River dam project and encourage alternative approaches for flood management. Our waters need protected for salmon, the environment, and our communities.
In this issue you will find an introduction to CELP’s newest Board Members, an update on the Chehalis River, Information on Ecology’s grants, water and fish news, and upcoming events.
Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe, Executive Director

Read Full Newsletter: https://conta.cc/3AAVLB2


Washington Water Watch: August Edition

Dear friends,

As the dry, hot weather continues, we are increasing water conservation efforts, protecting streamflows, and keeping an eye on our water resources.

Drought and fire season started early, putting our water resources in dire shape. Fifty-nine percent of the state is in severe to exceptional drought. King5 reported by mid-August, Washington and Oregon had already seen more than 20 times more land burned by wildfires this year than by mid-August last year. More needs to be done to protect our waters and adapt to our changing climate.

We are also keeping an eye on COVID-19 and taking necessary precautions to keep our staff and community safe. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback on our survey about attending events. We decided it was prudent to reschedule Celebrate Water. The new date is December 9th. We are hopeful circumstances will improve and we will be able to celebrate at Ivar’s Salmon House then.

CELP was greatly saddened to hear about the passing of Lorraine Loomis. Our hearts go out to her family, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and all who had the honor of knowing her.

In this issue you will find our latest comments to Ecology, our 2020 Annual Report, a tribute to Lorraine Loomis, information on water shortages in the West, Water & Fish News, and event details for Celebrate Water, the One River, Ethics Matter Conference, and AWRA-WA’s Annual Conference.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read the full newsletter: https://conta.cc/3yAipIc


News Release: Federal judge asked to compel cleanup of cancer-causing chemicals in the Spokane river

News release

For immediate release

Federal judge asked to compel cleanup of cancer-causing chemicals in Spokane River

Lawsuit filed 10 years ago has not moved government to protect river, community

Link:  Motion for Summary Judgment

Spokane – River advocates are asking a federal judge to rule on their 10-year-old lawsuit to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a cleanup plan for one of Washington State’s most polluted rivers. The Spokane River is heavily polluted with PCBs. The lawsuit began in July 2011, when river advocates notified EPA of their intent to sue on behalf of the river unless EPA complied with federal law. In 2015, a federal judge ordered EPA to come up with a schedule for a cleanup plan. EPA has yet to write a cleanup plan for the Spokane River.

“The days of using the Spokane River as a chemical dump are over,” said Tom Soeldner of the Spokane River Team. “Year after year we waited patiently. Now we are asking the federal courts to stop polluters from flushing PCBs into the River.”

The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires that polluted waters be fishable and swimmable. Although the State of Washington and EPA have been aware of PCB pollution for decades, the Spokane River still does not have a cleanup plan for PCBs.  Washington State Department of Ecology (WADOE) has continued to issue permits to polluters allowing them to dump PCBs into the Spokane River with no controls.

Washington Department of Health has issued a health advisory on PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River that has been in place for many years. PCBs have adverse effects on animals and human populations, including causing cancers in humans.  PCBs move up the food chain. Low concentrations in river water result in high concentrations in fish and other river life.

“‘Patience’ is the one word describing river advocates,” said John Allison, a Spokane River Team member. “Year after year we’ve waited. We’ve run out of hope and time with the agencies responsible for the Spokane River. We are returning to the courtroom to ask the federal judge to rule for the river and life.” 

“We need a clean, flowing water for the return of salmon,” said Kathy Dixon of the Spokane River Team. “Salmon along with our children and the river’s life are compelling reasons to comply with federal law and move forward with a cleanup plan.”

BACKGROUND:  10 YEARS OF LITIGATION TO CLEAN UP THE SPOKANE RIVER

PCBs are a group of industrial compounds associated with liver dysfunction and cancer, and are now banned in the United States. Washington State has formally recognized that the Spokane River is impaired for PCBs since 1996. When a river is listed for PCBs, the federal Clean Water Act requires binding cleanup targets before issuing any permits that would add more PCBs to the Spokane River.  Such a cleanup plan has never been completed for the Spokane River, but state and federal agencies have issued pollution permits anyway, failing to include numeric limits.

In 2011, the WADOE abandoned efforts to adopt a PCB cleanup plan, largely because of political opposition by Spokane River polluters, who would be required to reduce PCBs in effluent by up to 99% to meet both Washington State and Spokane Tribe water quality standards. These polluters include Inland Empire Paper, Kaiser, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane sewage treatment plants. Instead, Ecology formed the Spokane River Toxics Task Force and required the polluters to participate, but also gave them control over the goals and activities of the Task Force.

Subsequently EPA issued discharge permits to three Idaho dischargers – the City of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden Water & Sewer District – also not requiring PCB limits and also requiring participation in the Toxics Task Force.

Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) filed a citizen lawsuit against EPA in 2011. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the citizen lawsuit, and the Department of Ecology, Spokane County and Kaiser intervened to defend EPA. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled in March 2015 that EPA’s failure to require a clean-up plan was an abuse of discretion and ordered EPA to submit a plan to the Court by July 2015.

EPA, Ecology, Kaiser, and Spokane County appealed the ruling, but EPA withdrew its appeal and submitted a document (which fails to require a cleanup plan) to the District Court. In April 2016 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Ecology-County-Kaiser appeal in a one-paragraph decision. This meant that the legal challenge to the EPA’s “non-cleanup plan” document could move forward in District Court. 

During the past five years, Spokane River advocates have waited patiently for WADOE and EPA to complete a cleanup plan and begin its implementation.  In the absence of a cleanup plan, Sierra Club and CELP are now asking the federal judge to compel a cleanup plan under the law.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Contacts:

    Tom Soeldner, Spokane River Team  waltsoe@gmail.com 

    John Allison, Spokane River Team. jdallison@eahjlaw.com 


Washington Water Watch: May & June Edition

EDIT: The newsletter includes a save the date for Celebrate Waters. The date has since changed to September 9th.

Press Release

Dear Friends,

As we approach summer, we at CELP are keeping an eye on our water resources. This winter and spring we received plenty of snow that resulted in a heavy snowpack. Snowpack is a critical frozen reservoir that is released over the spring and summer as it melts. This spring much of the state has had warmer temperatures and below normal precipitation. Even with our current snowpack, there is concern that it will not last through the driest parts of the summer. Soil moisture is also an indicator of how much snowpack makes it into the rivers. In dry conditions the soil acts as a sponge and less snowmelt is added to stream flows. For our rivers that rely on precipitation more than snowpack there is even greater concern.

The Department of Ecology issued a drought advisory the end of May for most of Washington state, including all areas east of the Cascade Mountains, portions of southwest Washington and the Washington coast. The advisory acts as an early warning of possible drought to promote awareness and readiness. This is the first time the Department of Ecology has issued a drought advisory since it received the authority to do so from the Legislature in 2020. In the 2020 legislative session, CELP supported and advocated for Ecology’s drought preparedness bill. We are hopeful this action improves awareness among water users and increases readiness to respond to drought and conserve water.

As we all come out of the long COVID lock down, change and growth are coming to CELP. We are thrilled to introduce our new Water Policy Outreach Coordinator as well as our new Legal Intern. We are looking forward to them bringing new energy and ideas to our work. While we have adapted to working remotely, we are excited to be going back into the office soon and getting to work as a team in person. And this month we say goodbye to a long-time employee, our staff attorney Dan Von Seggern. We wish Dan the best in his new position, and we are excited to add a new staff attorney. 

In this issue you will find an update on our legislative success, an update on watershed restoration plans, a welcome to our new team members, water and fish in the news, a GiveBIG thank you, and a save the date for Celebrate Waters.

Sincerely,
Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

trolfe@celp.org

Read Full Newsletter: https://conta.cc/35hoGMu