Natural Resources and Environment

Note: this is part 2 of 3 in my series of how the new administration may impact environmental law and policy in the Pacific Northwest. For background, please see Part 1.

Tribal Relations
One of the key factors influencing environmental law and policy in the Pacific Northwest is the presence of and obligations owed to a number of tribes that are parties to treaties with the United States that extend back to the 1850s. The Federal Government has, historically, taken an active role in defining and enforcing those treaty rights on behalf of the tribes, and takes quite seriously its government-to-government obligations with respect to those tribes as sovereign entities (a good summary list, prepared in 2009 by the White House-Indian Affairs Executive Working Group is available here).
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On Friday morning, I boarded a plane in Chicago and by the time I touched down in Seattle, Trump had been sworn into office. We’ve received a number of questions from clients and friends asking us how the regime change will impact environmental law and policy in the Pacific Northwest. The quick answer is one that recognizes that state-level politics (which drives much of the environmental policy in Washington) has not changed in the seismic manner that federal politics have with this election. And, at federal agencies, while we are already seeing leadership changes (for instance, Dennis McLerran is no longer the head of Region 10), the staff of those agencies will not dramatically change—so the people that have made day-to-day decisions across multiple administrations will still be doing so.

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I have written extensively on the efforts by the Washington Department of Ecology to revise Washington’s Water Quality Standards to account for a higher fish consumption rate. This summer was when we were supposed to see the final rule be submitted to EPA for review and possible approval. In a nutshell, the controversy around this rule has to do with the upward revision in the fish consumption rate used to calculate Washington’s Water Quality Standards. That revision (from 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day) would result in more stringent WQS for many toxics—with the fear among dischargers being that those new criteria would be unattainable. Governor Inslee’s proposed solution—now over a year old—was to revise the excess cancer risk rate used in the WQS calculation from one in a million to one in one hundred thousand, and then couple the revised WQS with a package of regulatory efforts designed to address toxics from diffuse sources.

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