Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 closed its comment period for the Draft Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit. MCWRS and several of its members submitted comment letters to EPA and our state delegation criticizing various aspects of the permit, largely centered on the challenging or sometimes impossible costs of compliance. The Coalition is not alone in its concerns. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) also stood up to EPA. In the MassDEP letter, Commissioner Martin Suuberg emphasizes the importance of “[preserving] the environmental gains contemplated by the draft permit while doing so in a more achievable, efficient and cost-effective manner.”
MassDEP’s letter highlights several issues and recommendations identified in MCWRS’s letter, including but not limited to:
- The financial burden for communities to comply with the permit
- Constrained timelines for cities and towns to develop plans and implement improvements
- Consistency with the Clean Water Act and applicable standards, which include “additional provisions to ensure that discharges from small MS4s do not cause or contribute to an exceedance of water quality standards” beyond the maximum extent practicable standard, and related cost implications
- Concerns with administrative and reporting requirements
MassDEP’s letter also points out the need for federal and state agencies to collaborate to harmonize their respective regulations as well as to correct the Fact Sheet and Appendix F of the permit.
MCWRS agrees with MassDEP that while the MS4 permit requirements aim to produce environmental benefits, the permit must consider the significant investment of financial and staff resources needed from municipal governments. Most notably, MCWRS endorses MassDEP’s argument that the costs of compliance “will have significant effect on communities and the final permit should be adjusted to eliminate unnecessary requirements and to consider the timing needed for such significant resources.”
Commissioner Suuberg cites the prohibitively high proposed annual costs, based on the 2010 permit, for three MCWRS member communities: Bellingham, Franklin, and Milford. While the 2014 permit includes lower estimates, MassDEP suggests EPA add contingency costs, operational expenditures, and capital costs for “work related to meeting impaired waters or TMDL requirements” to ensure a “more reasonable cost estimate.” Later, MassDEP points out the cost implications of EPA’s choice of water quality-based effluent limitations. MCWRS hopes EPA seriously considers the comments submitted by MassDEP and Commonwealth communities.
To learn more and hear directly from MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, plan to attend MCWRS’s 6th Annual Water Resources Strategies Symposium on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 in Marlborough. Commissioner Suuberg will be joined by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew A. Beaton and other regional and national water resources industry leaders. Registration is open until May 6!