NWEA filed a lawsuit over Idaho toxics standards because a 17 year delay by federal fish and wildlife agencies in reviewing the state’s water quality standards is unlawful. The lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, filed June 14, claims the agencies have unreasonably delayed taking action under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). NWEA’s case points out that the agencies determined as long ago as 2002 that Idaho’s toxics standards were inadequate to protect threatened and endangered species but did nothing.
The standards were first submitted by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval under the Clean Water Act in 1994. EPA’s 1996 approval triggered the ESA review requirements because the standards likely affect threatened and endangered species. Species protected under the ESA that live in Idaho rivers and streams include salmon and steelhead, bull trout, Kootenai River white sturgeon, and five snails. There are 23 toxic pollutants at issue in this lawsuit.
In 2012, the fish and wildlife agencies completed similar reviews in Oregon, where they found that levels of some toxic chemicals would jeopardize the existence of salmon and steelhead. EPA subsequently disapproved these Oregon standards. NWEA had successfully sued the fish and wildlife agencies in 2010 to put them on court-ordered deadlines to complete the Oregon action.