Letters From the West

Portland group sues to beef up Idaho toxics standards to help fish

Bull trout are a threatened species in Idaho. (Idaho Statesman file photo by Roger Phillips)

Bull trout are a threatened species in Idaho. (Idaho Statesman file photo by Roger Phillips)

Northwest Environmental Advocates filed a lawsuit Friday against federal agencies for delaying taking action in controlling toxics that threaten salmon and steelhead.

The Portland-based group filed the suit under the federal Endangered Species Act against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for not forcing Idaho to fix what it calls the state’s “inadequate” toxic standards.

“These agencies had already determined over a decade ago, back in 2002, that Idaho’s toxics rules were inadequate to protect threatened and endangered species,” said Nina Bell, NWEA’s Executive Director in a press release. “And then, they did nothing.”

Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality submitted its toxics standards in 1994 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its approval under the Clean Water Act. EPA approved them in 1996, triggering a view under the Endangered Species Act to determine if they affect threatened and endangered species.

Bell said the two agencies have worked on the issue for 17 years after deciding Idaho’s toxics standards weren’t protective enough to protect endangered fish. But they have not beern able to come to an agreement with EPA.

When the fish and wildlife agencies completed similar reviews in Oregon in 2012, they found that levels of some toxic chemicals would jeopardize the existence of salmon and steelhead. EPA subsequently disapproved these Oregon standards.

Bell said the group hope to get the same result from this lawsuit.

“It’s clear that without litigation, Idaho’s fish aren’t going to get the protection they require for survival,” she said.

The lawsuit is aimed to protect not only salmon and steelhead but also bull trout, Kootenai River white sturgeon, and five snails. There are 23 toxic pollutants at issue that Idaho adopted criteria for the protection of aquatic species, the groups says are inadequate.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West