How much fish do you eat? Another 'head scratcher' from Olympia

As the ranking member on the House Environment Committee, I’ve witnessed several proposals over the last few years – in the form of legislation and proposed rules by state agencies – that I call “head scratchers.” These are issues that just make you wonder who’s running the show over in Olympia.

Like the time a bill was introduced to create an “engine fee” based on the size of your engine. Or the “TV tax” bill that punished consumers with large television screens. Or the “mileage tax” levied on high-mileage drivers.

These are oftentimes the issues brought up to me by folks at the grocery store back home or at the 4-H meeting. And the conversations around these issues usually include a lot of eye-rolling, frustrated questioning, and some choice, colorful words for the sponsors of the bills back in Olympia.

Well, folks. It’s time to add another one to the list: the Department of Ecology’s (DOE) “fish consumption survey.”

Currently, our state’s water quality standards are determined by a formula that includes information based on how much fish the average person in this state consumes. However, DOE is now proposing a ten-fold increase to this standard by basing it on the highest end of the fish-eating spectrum (Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders, and some Russian groups) which represents less than 10 percent of the state population.

When I asked a DOE official to see the fish consumption studies that showed these specific numbers, I was told I couldn’t see them. In fact, the DOE official hadn’t seen much of the information as it is proprietary to the tribes.

When I questioned further about our current measuring system of “parts-per-billion,” I was told that because of this proposed change, we could very well be in the “parts-per-trillion” range. Let me say that again: parts-per-trillion – with a “T.”

Why is this important to you and me? Our state’s water quality standards impact everything from logging, mining, agriculture, and road building, to recreational activities, manufacturing and small businesses. They also affect local governments and their water, sewer and storm water systems. Any change in the formula that governs these standards has huge implications for Washington citizens.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that such an impactful decision be based on a data set beyond that which represents less than 10 percent of our population? Shouldn’t that information be readily available to both the unelected bureaucrats proposing the rules and the elected officials responsible for overseeing the agency? In my mind, absolutely!

I’ll be hounding DOE for more information and working with our legal staff to bring accountability and common sense to these proposals. In the meantime, let the eye-rolling and the head scratching begin.

Editor’s Note: Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, is the ranking member on the House Environment Committee. She is also the assistant ranking member on the House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.