Groups sue EPA to protect wild salmon from climate change

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By Laura Zuckerman

<span class="articleLocation”>U.S. fishing and conservation groups sued the
Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, seeking to protect
wild salmon threatened by rising water temperatures attributed
in part to climate change in two major rivers of the Pacific

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, is
believed to be the first court case brought against the EPA
under President Donald Trump’s newly confirmed chief of the
agency, Scott Pruitt.

The groups’ legal bid on behalf of salmon runs in the
Columbia and Snake rivers hinges on the EPA’s authority under
the Clean Water Act to regulate excessive temperatures in those
rivers as pollutants.

The lawsuit seeks to compel the EPA to thus require dam
operators in the Columbia and Snake watersheds of Washington
state, Oregon and Idaho to control river flows in such a way as
to keep water temperatures cool enough for the salmon to

The plaintiffs, including Idaho Rivers United and the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, have
argued those dams create stretches of artificially slow or
shallow waters susceptible to increasingly warm weather, a
regional consequence of climate change.

The lawsuit cites the EPA’s own recognition in 2015, amid a
major salmon die-off in the Northwest that year, of the “critical” need to lower river temperatures in the face of
human-caused global warming.

It also noted that Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney
general who sued the EPA more than a dozen times on behalf of
his oil-producing state, is on the record as doubting the
science of climate change. The EPA declined to comment on the suit.

Excessively warm stream temperatures were to blame for the
loss of an estimated 250,000 adult sockeye salmon in 2015 during
the fishes’ seasonal upstream migration from the Pacific to
freshwater spawning grounds.

Summer water temperatures in the rivers has for years
exceeded limits allowed under state standards, a pattern that
should have prompted the EPA to craft a plan setting temperature
limits and steps to take should those levels be exceeded,
according to the lawsuit.

It said the EPA in 2000 began such a process tied to
imperiled salmon and steelhead trout and issued a draft plan
citing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers as primary
contributors to excessive water temperatures.

The suit seeks a court finding that the EPA has violated the
Clean Water Act by failing to set maximum temperature levels in
the impaired streams and unlawfully delayed a regulatory remedy,
resulting in “severe” consequences for endangered and threatened
fish populations.

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