The Washington Department of Ecology is near the end of an effort to ban boats from discharging raw and partially treated sewage into Puget Sound. Except, the waters may soon muddy.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's senior counsel called a meeting with Ecology Director Maia Bellon Wednesday morning.
"I typically work with the Seattle office of the Environmental PA to talk about these issues. I'm a 'glass is half full person.' I'm going to look at it as an opportunity to talk about Washingtonians want the Puget Sound to be treated with the utmost of respect," Bellon said.
The Regional EPA director has already approved the designation of a "No Discharge Zone." The process is still awaiting a public comment period, and boats will get five years to comply. Still, Bellon was confident the NDZ would become a reality.
"It's easy to prevent," she said. "Let's add that to the list of a way to protect the Puget Sound."
President Donald Trump's EPA counsel is reacting to a petition from Washington maritime stakeholders. They're critical of the NDZ designation, arguing it will be too costly for maritime business and doesn't do much to stop pollution. It will require some boats spend $175,000 in upgrades for storage tanks.
The petition reads: "We respectfully request that EPA rescind the February 21 determination to allow for a thorough review of Ecology's petition by you and your staff. The final determination was hastily promulgated and disregarded legitimate stakeholder concerns in favor of an expedited review designed primarily to avoid scrutiny by the Trump Administration. We respectfully request that you publish in the Federal Register a notice rescinding EPA's February 21 determination and provide direct notice to the Washington Department of Ecology to cease any NDZ rulemaking pending EPA's reconsideration. Thank you for your attention to this matter."
Charlie Costanzo, who is leading the charge to stop the No Discharge Zone rule, sent this statement:
"The commercial maritime industry wants to work with environmental regulators to implement NDZ policy that protects Puget Sound from harmful sewage discharges, but also allows the small number of working vessels with federally-approved and properly functioning onboard treatment systems to continue to operate in certain areas of the Sound. The maritime industry is happy to see NDZs in areas of water quality impairment, and near beaches and shellfish beds, and we’ve consistently asked the Washington Department of Ecology to collaborate on more discrete locations where NDZs make more sense. Ecology hasn’t been receptive to four years of requests. The maritime industry stands ready and willing to collaborate on NDZ policy that provides protection for Puget Sound and for the very small subset of the maritime industry that cannot reasonably accommodate a Sound-wide NDZ, but can certainly accommodate something more discrete."
There are currently 90 "No Discharge Zones" across 26 states in the country.
"I think it's unprecedented. I've not heard of any No Discharge Zone petitions across the United States in 26 states we've looked at this," Bellon said.
Bellon says her office has taken extra time to work with stakeholders, and believes if the Trump administration reverses the regional EPA ruling, it would be illegal.
"We have a lot of swimming beaches where our families and our kids swim and recreate," she said. "We fish out of the Puget Sound. We collect shellfish out of the Puget Sound. So, having those human pathogens or bacteria are problematic, and we should be eliminating those sources of pollution."