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Originally published Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: Gov. Jay Inslee can’t duck water-quality issue

Labor unions suspect the Inslee administration is about to propose tough new water regulations, and they are right to try to head it off.

Seattle Times Editorial

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LABOR unions held a news conference in the state Capitol last week to warn tough new water-quality regulations would be a direct hit on the economy. The response from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office was too dismissive.

Spokesman David Postman insisted the worries are premature because the Inslee administration hasn’t proposed anything yet. “There is no proposal. They don’t know what the governor is considering. You will find out as soon as it is done.”

The administration has been saying that for months now. The Machinists and the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers are right to worry — as is the rest of the state.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office is pressuring state regulators to adopt water-quality rules no one can meet with current technology, perhaps 25 times tougher than the current standard and higher than every state but Oregon. Businesses, municipalities and taxpayers would likely spend billions. Litigation from environmental groups would threaten permit renewals, and the economic drain could slow job growth statewide.

Advocates claim tougher regulations would mean better protection for groups that eat more fish than average, such as Native American tribes. The science has obvious problems — no studies have explored whether those groups are harmed by current standards or whether higher standards would improve human health.

Last year, the Inslee administration spiked a study proposal from Boeing to study those questions. The governor should have those answers before making such a far-reaching decision. Last month, he told The Times’ editorial board, “The fact is, we have some groups of people that eat five or six times as much fish as others, and they deserve protection, too.”

Unions can talk to the Democratic governor in a way business cannot. They are right to utter words like “unreasonable,” “unattainable,” “extreme,” “ridiculous” and “misguided.” And they were right to hold their news conference just upstairs from the governor’s office, where their message could not be ignored.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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