EPA pulls back on fish-killing rule change

  A little attention from the media helped thwart an attempt by the federal government to do a favor for the mining industry at the expense of fish and birds.

In question is the metal selenium, which is a byproduct of coal- and phosphate-mining, copper-smelting and agriculture. At low levels, selenium is an essential nutrient for healthy immune systems, but at higher levels it can be toxic, as scientists found at California’s Kesterson Wildlife Refuge in the 1980s. There, high levels of selenium from agricultural runoff killed and deformed thousands of waterbirds.

In 1998, the EPA ruled that levels of selenium in water could not exceed 5 parts per billion. But in March 2002, the EPA proposed a new standard that would be measured in fish tissue, rather than in water samples; the new standard would be a much higher 7.9 parts per million, levels that the agency admitted would kill one-fifth of all fish. "For some reason known only to them, their goal was 20 percent mortality," says Joseph Skorupa, a selenium expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We wrote a letter saying this isn’t suitable under the Endangered Species Act."

Researchers then realized fish mortality would be even higher because the EPA had made a mathematical error: With concentrations of 7.9 ppm in their bodies, more than 60 percent of the fish would die.

But by early 2004, coal-mining companies were pressing the EPA to move ahead. In July, the EPA released another draft, still pushing the 7.9 standard.

According to Skorupa, before the EPA could finalize the rule in late August as planned, an article about the selenium standard appeared in the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee. After outcries from the public and politicians such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the EPA pulled back.

"We received some additional information that we wanted to take a look at and consider and review before we put out a final notice," says Cathy Milbourn, an EPA spokeswoman. She adds that the issue was "not driven by the election – it’s something that is still under internal review and when that review is complete, it will be out for public comment."

High Country News Classifieds
  • CABIN FOR RENT IN KELLY
    1 room, furnished cabin, full kitchen, full bath, washer/dryer in basement. No smoking, no vaping, no marijuana, no parties, no drugs. View of the Tetons....
  • GRANT WRITER (PART-TIME, FREELANCE CONTRACT)
    High Country News seeks an energetic, eloquent and highly organized grant writer to support a growing foundations program. This position works closely with our Executive...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...