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Daily News editorial

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Reading Tuesday’s front page might well have triggered excessive eyeball rolling in the Valley. We hope all have recovered from delving into the story about the Washington state Department of Ecology’s decision to impose a new — and substantial — fee on wineries to pay for the enforcement of a rule that’s never been broken by a winery.

Wow!

The Department of Ecology just didn’t pass a regulation in search of a problem, it went much further. It mandated the collection of a fee to hire people to catch wineries polluting groundwater, which has not yet happened.

Without the new fee for wineries and other fee increases, the Ecology Department says it would have to cut staff, increasing the chances businesses will violate their permits and potentially damage the environment, wrote reporter Don Jenkins of the Capital Press, a Salem-based agriculture newspaper. The winery fee will range from a few hundred dollars to more than $33,000, depending on the size of the winery. A department economist concluded that the higher fees will benefit the economy by creating public-sector jobs, Jenkins added.

“That takes a lot of chutzpah,” said Paul Beveridge, Family Wineries of Washington president.

Indeed it does.

Beveridge said he’s given up plans to expand his small Seattle-area winery because it would be too expensive to comply with Ecology’s rules for wineries.

Large and mid-sized wineries will need a wastewater-discharge permit similar to those required of manufacturers. The fee goes into effect on July 27.

The rules will apply to wineries that make at least 17,835 gallons of wine or juice a year, according to Jenkins’ reporting. Regulations will limit irrigating with water recycled after cleaning bottles, barrels, tanks and other equipment.

Why? Well, according to the Ecology Department, winery wastewater laced with cleaning chemicals and organic matter could pollute.

But, Jenkins reported, a spokeswoman confirmed the department has not documented a single case.

Ecology set the fees on wineries when it reworked (as in increased) fees on more than 6,300 businesses and sewer plants that already have permits to discharge pollutants. Some manufacturers, including food processors and fruit packers, saw fees go up 4.62 percent this month. They will see it go up another 5.43 percent next year.

Let’s be clear: We are very much in favor of government oversight of businesses that have polluted and have the potential to pollute again. It’s why pollution of our groundwater, rivers, streams and the ocean have been reduced over time.

But it is absurd to add a fee — particularly one that can make or break a business — because a winery might do something to hurt the environment even though it’s not been done before.

And then to try to sell the new fee and other increases as a boost to the economy because of a few government jobs are created is ludicrous.

The wine industry should not have to tolerate this nonsense.

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