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Washington’s Refusal to Operate under Coastal Protection Law Could Lose the State Federal Funding

December 07, 2016

Longtime partners, Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA), represented by Earthrise attorney Allison LaPlante and Seattle attorney Paul Kampmeier of Kampmeier & Knutsen filed a lawsuit today against the EPA and NOAA for their failure to force Washington State to control polluted runoff in the state’s coastal watersheds, including Puget Sound. The lawsuit aims to force the agencies to impose Congressionally-mandated funding cuts on the State of Washington for failing to comply with a law that requires the state to protect coastal water quality.

“Congress was very clear that the federal agencies are required to use fear of funding losses to kick coastal states into high gear on protecting water quality,” said Nina Bell, Executive Director of NWEA and Lewis and Clark alum. “But, for 18 years, the federal agencies have blatantly ignored the law and done nothing to protect the coastal water quality that Washington citizens desire and Washington species require. The Department of Ecology’s failure to control polluted runoff from farms, urban areas, and logging is an attack on salmon, orca whales, shellfish beds, and recreation.”

In 1990, Congress passed the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (“CZARA”) to focus states on controlling polluted runoff in coastal areas where increasing populations are putting added pressure on sensitive ecosystems, such as Puget Sound. The federal law requires EPA and NOAA to withhold at least one third of federal grant funds from states that have failed to obtain approval of their coastal nonpoint source runoff programs, starting in 1996. The Washington Department of Ecology receives an average of $3 million each year from EPA to support its nonpoint source program and $2 million annually for its coastal zone management program. Both grant programs are subject to the funding cuts.

Since 2004, Washington has received over $45 million from EPA and since 1998 it has received over $40 million from NOAA. It was in 1998 that the federal agencies first informed Washington that its program was not working to control polluted runoff.

In 2009, NWEA filed a similar lawsuit under CZARA in Oregon, ultimately requiring the agencies to  cut the state’s annual funding by $1.2 million. After the case was settled in 2010, Oregon refused to carry out the agreement. By 2013, the federal agencies had proposed to disapprove Oregon’s program. In January 2015 they had disapproved it, and by March 2016 made the cuts to the state’s funding.

According to Bell, “the best outcome of our lawsuit would be Washington’s commitment to clean up the sources of pollution that only the state has the power to regulate. But if Washington continues to refuse, there is no reason why it should not suffer the consequences of its inaction, just the way that Congress intended. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to give federal funding to a state that refuses to do the first thing to stop nonpoint source pollution.”

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