Seattle, WA – In an effort to protect threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon from toxic pollution, a group of local and national organizations announced plans today to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating the Endangered Species Act. The group, led by National Wildlife Federation and including Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, People For Puget Sound, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and Washington Trout, contends that EPA has failed to consider the harmful effects of discharged pollutants and stormwater on Chinook salmon. Such pollution harms salmon and the groups believe EPA has failed to provide the safety net to ensure that pollution discharges are controlled to keep Washington waters healthy and safe for wild salmon.
“We have a major crisis with the health of Puget Sound, and the government is allowing polluters to further degrade waters that are essential to the continued survival of Puget Sound Chinook salmon,” says James Schroeder, Senior Environmental Policy Specialist for National Wildlife Federation. “We are suing the government to force it to impose science-based pollution discharge standards that will give Puget Sound, and Chinook salmon in particular, a chance to survive and recover. As the overseer of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, EPA has an obligation to ensure that this pollution permit program is not harming what remains of this protected species.”
In Washington, pollution discharge permits for stormwater are generally ineffective in ensuring that stormwater discharges do not contribute to violations of water quality standards, even though the largest source of pollution harming Puget Sound is stormwater runoff. Untreated stormwater is unsafe because it includes toxic organics, heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, nutrients, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, and suspended solids – all of which are harmful to salmon. Stormwater runoff from urbanized areas has severe effects on stream hydrology, making rivers and creeks less suitable for salmon spawning and rearing. Industrial and municipal sewage plant discharges often contain elevated levels of toxic pollutants and are of concern as well.
“An essential feature of Chinook salmon habitat is cool, clean water,” says Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Washington Trout. “If we want to keep Chinook in Puget Sound, we need to keep our water clean. But EPA doesn’t even want to know how badly stormwater runoff is harming Puget Sound Chinook or its habitat.”
“Getting EPA to step up is only the first step,” says Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director of People For Puget Sound. “The next is developing solutions to improve the quality of Puget Sound for both people and wildlife. Through the Puget Sound Partnership, we will work to get more resources to help cleanup the Sound.”
Recent technical reports commissioned to analyze the impacts of stormwater and toxics on Puget Sound Chinook salmon and its habitat conclude that continued degradation of water quality by discharged pollutants and runoff will impair regional efforts to recover imperiled Chinook salmon. "Our report documents that there is an encyclopedia worth of toxics dumped daily into Puget Sound with the blessings of the Department of Ecology" said Sue Gunn, the Washington state director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (view the report) "Clearly dilution is the not answer to the contamination problem in the Sound."
The groups are asking that EPA immediately initiate formal consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service on the effects of permitted pollutant discharges on Puget Sound Chinook salmon. "It is essential that scientists with expertise in the impact of toxic pollutants evaluate the impact of EPA approved pollution on endangered salmon and orca whales," says Sue Joerger, Executive Director of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, "it is appalling that regulators have not consulted with scientists prior to allowing toxics to be discharged in critical salmon habitat."
The groups are represented by Richard A. Smith of Smith & Lowney, PLLC, and John Kostyack of National Wildlife Federation.
James Schroeder, National Wildlife Federation, 206-285-8707
Sue Gunn, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 360-528-2110
Sue Joerger, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance 206-297-7002
Kathy Fletcher, People For Puget Sound 206-382-7007
Kurt Beardslee, Washington Trout, 425-788-1167