Thursday in Pendleton, TAPS were played for the future of Oregon’s natural resources based economy, and the private sector jobs they sustain. The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) adopted, by Administrative Rule, new Oregon water quality standards for human toxics that are ten times more stringent than anywhere else in the United States, or for that matter, anywhere else on the planet.
Compliance with the water quality standards adopted by the EQC will be virtually impossible. In many situations the new standards exceed the normal background levels. Water diverted from a stream, or pumped from a well, that naturally exceeds the concentration of any alleged pollutant cannot be returned to any water body without being treated to meet the new draconian standards. Moreover, it is our understanding that no known water treatment technology exists to treat water to achieve some of the standards.
The Rules were adopted by fiat by EQC. The Rules have the full force of Oregon laws. There was no vote of the people. There was no vote by elected Legislators that represent the people. The Commission enacted the Rules through Oregon’s administrative rule procedure.
The EQC procedure for adopting Administrative Rules is a sham. Public input is solicited and summarized by EQC. Unfortunately, that public input is then selectively ignored. Reams of form letters, solicited by special interest groups receive the same credibility as the most thoughtful evaluations by respected PhD scientists. No meaningful attempt is made to address the issues raised by dissenting scientists. Those careful scientific criticisms by learned professionals are routinely dismissed out of hand simply because Department of Environmental Quality staff disagrees. In my opinion, in most cases the outcome of the rules making process is determined before public input is solicited.
The water quality standards are based on modeled data for the accumulation of toxic pollutants in fish. Little supportive data is cited to substantiate that alleged bioaccumulation. The standards are further based on modeled data for their accumulation in people who eat fish. No supportive data is cited to substantiate that alleged bioaccumulation in humans. Never-the-less, the new standard is based on the human consumption of 175 grams or about 6 ounces of fish per day. This calculates to 142 pounds of fish per person. The adopted rules hold the entire state to that standard.
Basing our solutions on inappropriate assumptions often leads to absurd outcomes. In this case we must assume that the heavy metals are accumulating in fish, and assume that these folks consume 6 ounces of fish every day of the year, and assume that all the metals consumed by eating the fish are retained in the human body in order to reach the threshold of what EQC has determined may be a dangerous level of heavy metals in humans. Moreover, we must assume that reducing the level of these toxic pollutants in our fresh water supply will reduce their bioaccumulation in salmon, steelhead and other anadromous species that live most of their life in the ocean. Further, in order to justify these standards we must assume that this alleged bioaccumulation problem is ten times more likely to occur in Oregon than in any of the other 49 states. Finally, we must assume that the concentrations found in water and fish today are higher than the levels found a hundred years ago and further that the difference is being caused by man.
The science that EQC cites to support these assumptions is specious at best. One of the five alleged peer reviewed studies appears to be nothing more than a summary of the summaries of a literature search. Another study performed in a Washington watershed specifically states that the conclusions reached cannot be considered to be valid or useful in any other watershed. Another excluded everyone who did not eat fish from the data base that calculated the average fish consumption for the entire population. The other two studies have equally strong disclaimers and fatal flaws.
Our businesses and our natural resources based industries have no chance of complying with the EQC adopted water quality standards. Their only option will be to purchase mitigation rights to continue the practices that they have followed for decades. They will soon have to pay to continue the practices that have never, and never will cause anyone harm. This will be yet another tax on the privilege of doing business in Oregon, an uncompetitive tax that similar businesses in other states will not be required to pay.
Why would any business choose to move to Oregon with their capital and their jobs knowing that they must pay to not comply with these impossible water quality standards? As a matter of fact, why would any Oregon business that is capable of leaving remain in this state with the new competitive disadvantage?
Remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon… no one will.
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