What’s being protected?

Reading through some recent correspondence between Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and EPA head Lisa Jackson about PCBs, it appears the EPA is more concerned about industry’s ability to be competitive and profitable than it is about the environment.  Quick, what’s the E in EPA stand for?


PCBs are a troublesome pollutant for the Spokane River and many other waterways.
First some background.

There is a serious water quality and human health concern with PCBs that continues to be impossible to solve.  In as basic of terms as possible, the problem exists because federal regulations over toxics making their way in to this country don’t line up with regulations for water quality.  In more specifics, EPA’s Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA) regulations currently allow imported products to contain PCB concentrations up to 50 ppm (parts per million), while surface water quality standards are nearly 8 million times stronger.  This discrepancy makes it pretty damn hard to achieve clean water.

You may recall that this issue is nothing new to Riverkeeper.  In fall of 2010, Riverkeeper, along with The Lands Council and Inland Empire Paper (IEP) sent a lengthy, detailed letter to the EPA, both alerting EPA to this issue, and urging the agency to act swiftly to address a TSCA loophole.  That loophole being one that was particularly challenging for Inland Empire Paper, and of concern to us because of the water quality implications.

Whereas IEP’s waste water discharges to the Spokane River will be governed by the federal Clean Water Act, incorporating both state and tribal water quality standards for PCBs, the root source of the PCBs is regulated under a different law, TSCA,  that was enacted in 1976, a year before the Clean Water Act became law.

While TSCA certainly regulates PCBs, it gives regulatory leeway to companies who produce PCBs as unintentional impurities, a loophole that has the effect of allowing the import and/or manufacture of pigments that contain as much as 50 parts per million, a small concentration to be sure but on that is still vastly higher than what compliance with the Clean Water Act may impose on IEP.

Back to the present, Mike Simpson (R), 2nd District representative from the state of Idaho sent a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on December 16, 2011, urging EPA to revise appropriate sections of TSCA regulations that allow imported products containing PCBs.  In his letter, which he signed, “on behalf of the American people and the protection of our environment”, he called this issue a “significant environmental concern”.  And we couldn’t agree more.

EPA responded on January 27, 2012, seemingly siding with industry (specifically the Color Pigments Manufacturing Association) by referencing “the difficulty of meeting applicable PCB water standards and that addressing the issue would “jeopardize most color printing in the Unite States.  The response from EPA reads much like a, “thanks for your comments, but…”.

Bottom line, it’s extremely disheartening reading this and having faith in EPA to do what’s best for the environment.

See for yourself.  You can read Rep Simpson’s letter HERE, and EPA’s response HERE.

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