AF&PA Policy Expert Analyzes EPA’s Overreach with Human Health Water Quality Criteria and Fish Consumption Rates

Jun 10, 2016

June 10, 2016
CONTACT: Jessica McFaul / Chuck Fuqua
(202) 463-2436, comm@afandpa.org 

WASHINGTON – While policymakers have been focused on the more well-known and expansive Waters of the United States rule, a lesser-known water regulatory issue with the potential for sweeping national implications has been emerging in the states: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new policy for calculating Clean Water Act (CWA) Human Health Water Quality Criteria (HHWQC).

“While EPA’s policy is well-intentioned, it’s bad public policy that results in extremely high costs with little benefit,” said American Forest & Paper Association Senior Director, Energy & Environmental Policy Jerry Schwartz, who recently authored a paper published in Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Environment Report titled “Human Health Criteria, Fish Consumption Rates—More Important Policy Implications Than Clean Water Rule?” and testified this week on the proposed HHWQC for Maine.

Based on tribal treaty rights, EPA’s policy would establish a new model intended to protect subgroups of consumers of large quantities of fish from theoretical risks. As outlined in a Dec. 2013 report issued by a coalition of Washington state stakeholders, this approach results in unnecessarily stringent CWA permit limits - some of which are unachievable even after investing billions of dollars - and provides no measurable health benefit when compared to more reasonable alternatives that EPA has rejected.

The agency’s actions also rewrite the rules that govern the roles of EPA and the states under the CWA. Long-standing guidance makes clear that states have the discretion to develop their own criteria as long as they protect designated uses. EPA may prefer that states adopt its science and policy choices, such as the new policy on accounting for tribal treaty rights in setting criteria. However, EPA regulations are clear that states can choose not to do so when developing their criteria as long as those choices reflect site-specific conditions or are scientifically defensible. In light of the “compounded conservatism” inherent in EPA’s formula for developing criteria, state criteria that EPA has improperly rejected should easily meet those standards.

“Those well-established regulations should trump a new policy, the basis of which is far from clear. Furthermore, this policy is being advanced without public notice and comment, all of which sets a dangerous precedent for other states down the road,” added Schwartz. “Government agencies must adopt policies based on facts, data, and analysis and appropriately balance benefits and cost. Imposing over a billion dollars in costs to reduce less than one theoretical cancer per year does not meet that test.”

To-date, EPA has challenged four states on their proposed criteria: Washington, Maine, Idaho and Florida.

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The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance a sustainable U.S. pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and wood products manufacturing industry through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. AF&PA member companies make products essential for everyday life from renewable and recyclable resources and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative - Better Practices, Better Planet 2020. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 4 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures over $200 billion in products annually, and employs approximately 900,000 men and women. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $50 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 47 states. Visit AF&PA online at www.afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.