Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is touting his environmental credentials on the national stage in his bid for the presidency, has failed to address emergency levels of toxic and nutrient pollution in Puget Sound by modernizing sewage treatment. Last week, Gov. Inslee declined to order changes in state rules sought by Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA) to require the removal of nutrient and toxic pollution. Instead, the region’s sewage treatment plants will continue to use the century-old, outdated technology known as “secondary treatment” despite a Washington state that law requires use of the best available treatment technology.

“Gov. Inslee apparently wants to keep Puget Sound sewage treatment in line with a world before the discovery of antibiotics and the invention of zippers and ballpoint pens,” said Nina Bell, executive director of NWEA. “This affection for the early 20th century would be quaint if pollution from treated sewage weren’t killing Puget Sound’s salmon, oysters, and orcas,” she added.

NWEA petitioned the Washington Department of Ecology in November 2018 to adopt rules that would require use of “tertiary treatment,” a widely used nutrient removal technology that Ecology has ordered for Spokane County. Current Ecology rules require use of only secondary sewage treatment technology, which does not remove nutrient pollution or toxics such as the pharmaceuticals and personal care products scientists have recently fingered in the decline of the region’s salmon.

The 100-page petition explains the importance of removing the toxic and nutrient pollution that Ecology itself agrees are causing myriad problems in Puget Sound, including wholesale food web changes, low levels of dissolved oxygen, ocean acidification, and toxic threats to orca whales, Chinook salmon, and Dungeness crab. The petition is based on a Washington state law referred to as “AKART,” requiring the use of “All Known, Available, and Reasonable Treatment” for pollution prior to its discharge.

“Gov. Inslee has certainly heard of the ‘dead zones’ in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, yet he seems happy enough to pretend this isn’t happening in his own back yard,” Bell added. “The governor’s own agency has shown that the nutrient pollution that is causing algal blooms, jellyfish infestations, and ecosystem upheaval in Puget Sound comes primarily from sewage treatment plants,” she added.

“Gov. Inslee’s passion and leadership when it comes to climate change is laudable, but it stands in stark contrast to his record on protecting Puget Sound,” said Andrew Hawley, staff attorney for Western Environmental Law Center in Seattle. “By failing to take this ready-made opportunity to modernize the sewage treatment systems discharging to Puget Sound, Gov. Inslee has missed the chance to make its waters better able to withstand the effects of climate change, and to protect the region’s salmon, steelhead, and orca we all treasure.”

After Ecology rejected the petition, NWEA appealed to Gov. Inslee on Jan. 30 and sued Ecology in Thurston County Superior Court on Feb. 8.


Andrew Hawley, Western Environmental Law Center, 206-487-7250,

Nina Bell, Northwest Environmental Advocates, 503-295-0490,

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