It used to be legal to dump your shit in Puget Sound. Like, literal shit. Some boaters in Washington state would rather keep it that way. They've picked an optimal time to fight an environmental policy against it.
Last year, after a five-year process, the EPA declared Puget Sound—2,300 square miles from the Canadian border to the Discovery Island Lighthouse and waters east of the New Dungeness Lighthouse—a No Discharge Zone (NDZ). Essentially, it prohibits ships and boats from discharging raw or partially-treated sewage into any of those waters. With an NDZ, ships are required to use pump-out stations to get rid of their sewage.
It's something that isn't super difficult for boats to comply with since there are 100 or so sewage pump-out stations around the Sound. The increasingly-fragile environment—you know, the one where the salmon runs are decreasing and the orcas are constantly keeling over and dying?—benefits from an NDZ. It's a no-brainer—26 other states have implemented around 90 NDZs nationwide. But, Washington tugboat operators are disgruntled. They're suing the EPA over the NDZ designation in Puget Sound.
"The timing on this is interesting," Nick Abraham, Communications Director with the Washington Environmental Council said. According to Abraham, the tugboat operators—collectively the American Waterway Operators (AWO)—were involved with the process from the beginning. Still, they've complained about lack of time, lack of information, and have delayed the process. "The No Discharge order was finalized and approved and set to be implemented just before the Obama administration left."
Abraham believes AWO is suing under the Trump administration's EPA "to get a favorable ruling out of this," he said. "They think they have an opportunity to kill this thing because of the current administration."
According to a statement made by AWO, the "Puget Sound No Discharge Zone cannot be shown to improve water quality in Puget Sound, and the Department acknowledges that it would cost vessel operators $750 million while providing no demonstrable environmental benefit."
There are studies that dispute that. "They do this in so many places and it works fine," Abraham said. "The majority of boaters already complied with the policy to begin with."
For the most part, once NDZs are up and running, they have a lot of staying power. The Washington Environmental Council, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and Friends of the Earth are all fighting this lawsuit. Attorney General Bob Ferguson threatened to sue over a Clean Water Act violation in Puget Sound just last month.
"With this current administration, they’ve shown nothing but moves to cut protection and be on the side of industry," Abraham said. "That’s the worry here, that’s why the Attorney General's office and why our organization have stepped into the lawsuit. That’s not usual. But we have to make sure that the EPA does their job."
The AWO did not immediately respond to The Stranger's request for comment. This post will be updated if they do.