It hasn’t happened yet, but the state of Oregon is in danger of losing some $2 million in federal dollars currently being spent to clean up its coastal waters. The reason? The state’s effort isn’t good enough for Northwest Environmental Advocates, a Portland-based environmental group.

The environmental group sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, arguing the state’s efforts to reduce indirect water pollution in coastal waters don’t go far enough. Indirect pollution can come from such things as faulty septic systems, landslides and runoff from logging roads.

NOAA and the EPA have settled the lawsuit, and as part of the settlement they’ve agreed to disapprove Oregon’s plan. That might make sense if, in fact, they believe the state is doing a terrible job of improving coastal waters. Yet the two agencies have approved 60 improvement measures to date, according to a state background paper on the issue. Three measures have not been approved.

Meanwhile, the acting director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management calls the state “a leader in coastal management.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry notes that this summer it submitted plans to NOAA and the EPA on all three pollution sources: leaky septic systems, stormwater runoff after construction in urban areas and logging.

It also notes that the two federal agencies have not taken action against conditionally approved programs like Oregon’s in 10 other states, those where no lawsuits have been brought. Instead, the agencies are working in those states to resolve problems without withdrawing funds. It argues, reasonably, that Oregon would receive similar treatment without the lawsuit.

We can understand state officials’ distress. Loss of the money would have a serious impact on the state’s effort to do just what the two federal agencies want it to do. In fact, loss of the money makes sense only if you buy the implicit argument in Northwest Environmental Advocates’ spokeswoman’s statement on the settlement.

Piecemeal improvements aren’t enough, she said. Rather, regulation must happen on a much broader scale.

In other words, rather than striving for workable solutions, go in and demand instantaneous, job-killing change.