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By Tristian Scott, Flathead Beacon

A Republican lawmaker from Libby is seeking to repeal a two-year-old water quality rule to protect fish species in Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River, proposing a bill that would nearly double the allowable limit for selenium — criteria set in place to defend against toxic loads of the pollutant leaching into the international waterway from Canadian coal mines upstream.The lawmaker, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, introduced House Bill 473 to members of the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 15, describing its intent as straight forward — to strike down a water quality standard crafted after nearly a decade of analysis by a multitude of state, federal and tribal agencies on both sides of the border, where the chemical byproduct continues to be detected at elevated levels in fish tissue and egg ovary samples, as well as in the water column.

“I don’t know how to explain the bill. I mean all you have to do is read it,” said Gunderson, who represents a legislative district encompassing portions of Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River, and who says he participated in the development of the new site-specific selenium standard. But Gunderson has fought the rule at every turn, calling the process to adopt it “rushed” even as scientists and government officials whose work spans multiple administrations defend the standard as based on rigorous peer-reviewed scientific models.


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