OLYMPIA — State Sen. Mark Schoesler said he expects that water issues will again come into play during the upcoming session of the Washington state Legislature.
“There’s a lot of interest in fallout from the Lemire case,” he said. “We can’t build or fence our way out of this.”
Joe Lemire, a Dayton rancher, lost a 2013 appeal to the Supreme Court in which he challenged the state Department of Ecology, which had cited him for failure to fence off his cattle from Pataha Creek. The creek is dry part of the year.
Lemire had argued that there was no evidence his cattle caused the creek’s pollution, but State Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens wrote that evidence did show the creek was polluted and that conditions on Lemire’s property were recognized causes of the discharge of livestock fecal matter and sediment into water.
During a recent meeting of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, state Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said the law allowing Ecology to take action on a “substantial potential to pollute” is too subjective and vague.
“I told Ecology that the alternative to cows is ranchettes and subdivisions, what the environmental community doesn’t want,” Schoesler said. “We do a disservice to the environment and to rural communities. Where do we go after Lemire?”
Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee, said he didn’t know if the Lemire case would face further scrutiny in committee hearings.
“We’ll look at it, but I don’t know if anything needs to come forward on that,” he said.
Hatfield said he looks forward to the confirmation hearing of Bud Hover as director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and though Gov. Jay Inslee will likely not push a carbon tax or cap and trade, “We’ll be vigilant for impacts of that on rural Washington.”
There are no major issues that stand out this year, he said, “but there is always something unexpected that comes up.”
The 2014 session will convene Jan. 13 through March 13.
Schoesler, R-Ritzville and the Senate Republican leader, said that for the first time since 2008, the Legislature faces no deficit.
“A lot of people are happy to relax and know they’re not on the chopping block,” he said. “We should have spirited debate and consider ideas and options, but after years of deficits and special sessions, a boring session would be welcome.”