With the backing of statewide agricultural groups, a Washington state lawmaker says he wants to require the Department of Ecology to use scientific testing when claiming a landowner is polluting water.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, has introduced House Bill 2472, which would remove “in the opinion of” Ecology from existing state law, and require Ecology’s determinations to be based on site-based, source-specific environmental testing.
The law currently reads that “whenever, in the opinion of the department, any person shall violate or creates a substantial potential to” pollute waters of the state, the department will notify the person of its determination by registered mail.
Kretz said he believes the current statute is too broad.
“To me, if you’re getting an enforcement type letter from an agency, there should be some data behind it, not just ‘We drove by it and we think there’s potential to pollute,’” Kretz said.
Kelly Susewind, special assistant for agriculture water quality for Ecology, said he knows some farmers and ranchers believe the department has too much authority.
“Most of the fear or hysteria around this is our ability to write tickets for potential to pollute, and we don’t have that,” he said. “We have the authority to tell you ‘You have potential to pollute, and you need to correct that situation.’”
Several industry leaders believe Kretz’s bill would ease ag concerns if it survives the legislative process.
“This is exactly what we want, because this eliminates that subjective judgment call,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
“This is an instance where the legislature needs to give clearer direction to the agency about how they enforce the laws that the legislature passed,” said Jamie Henneman, spokesperson for Science First Coalition, in a press release. “It is an opportunity to ensure that data is central to any discussions that may ask a landowner to alter or change how they use their property.”
Kretz’s bill has been referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and companion Senate Bill 6288 to the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee.
Kretz hopes to build coalitions with other groups.
“This could go right down to homeowners’ lawns,” he said. “‘The potential to pollute’ is such a broad term.”
Ecology Director Maia Bellon will soon start an advisory committee to meet with farmers and ranchers, Susewind said.
“There’s room in the middle here to have a thriving agricultural industry and protect water quality,” he said.
Kretz said he had positive meetings with Bellon, who assumed her position in 2013. He expects political pressure to shelve the bill to give Bellon time to deal with the matter, but doesn’t think his constituents can wait.
“My feeling is we don’t have a year or two. My folks are getting letters back home right now,” he said.