Breaking News! The Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship is excited to announce that Governor Baker has just re-filed legislation to delegate authority of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Currently, Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation whose NPDES program is administered federally by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On March 8, Governor Baker, joined by Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton and MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg, met with the press and members of the public to announce the re-filing. MCWRS Director Josh Schimmel attended as the spokesperson for the Coalition, and he was joined on the stage by several of our members. To aid the transition, Governor Baker also allocated $1.4 million in the FY2018 state budget proposal for MassDEP staff.
This legislation was originally filed in April 2016, but the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) sent it to study at the end of the last legislative season, effectively killing it. If the legislation is passed, it will be part of a submittal made by MassDEP to EPA Region 1. As previously reported, “MassDEP will be required to demonstrate that it has developed an effective plan for managing the program, that its legal authorities are sufficient to meet federal requirements, and that a plan for funding is in place.”
In Governor Baker’s remarks, he emphasized that giving MassDEP authority for the NPDES program will ensure practical and big picture decisions are made to support holistic, integrated water management. The Commonwealth knows its waters best and will work with communities as partners, so they understand how permits are developed. He also announced that $4.7 million will be included in the budget annually as a dedicated line item to pay for the comprehensive program. “Having MassDEP manage the NPDES program will benefit communities by providing a perspective that is more attune to local issues and is more consistent with state goals and values,” MCWRS President Phil Guerin explained. “A single agency to oversee all water-related regulatory matters also provides greater opportunity for municipalities to successfully implement integrated water resources planning and address multiple regulatory requirements and community infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.”
The Coalition applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, and MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg for continuing to push for this critically necessary change. Watch the Governor’s video announcement and read the press release for more information.
Stay tuned for future updates on this matter. As in 2016, we will need our members to support this legislation by reaching out to their Senators and Representatives.
On January 25, Governor Baker filed the fiscal year (FY) 2018 state budget proposal, totaling $40.5 billion. In the budget, the Baker-Polito Administration allocated $1.4 million for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to assume delegated authority of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Specifically, the money would fund 12 MassDEP staff members to begin transitioning the program from EPA to MassDEP. This funding is far from the total amount needed to run the NPDES program effectively (estimated at $6 million), but is a good first step to do the groundwork and position MassDEP to take over the program.
However, for MassDEP to officially assume authority, Governor Baker must refile the appropriate legislation. This legislation, formerly Bill H.4254, was originally filed in April 2016. MCWRS President Phil Guerin testified at the May 17, 2016 legislative hearing on behalf of the Coalition urging the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) to pass the legislation. Unfortunately, the bill was sent to study in June 2016 and no action was taken. Local environmental advocacy organizations have historically opposed the transition, citing MassDEP’s limited budget and their concern that the agency might be vulnerable to state politics.
Currently, EPA Region 1 administers the program in Massachusetts, while 47 other states manage their own NPDES permitting. The Coalition has advocated for this transfer since 2007 and in January 2016, we penned a position paper outlining our argument for primacy, with key caveats. As previously reported, this legislation would not remove EPA from the permitting process and MassDEP already has delegated authority for drinking water and air quality permit programs. The Coalition believes that EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach does not consider location-specific environmental, social, and economic factors. MassDEP management of the program would also provide greater opportunity for municipalities to pursue integrated water resources planning. Integrated plans allow communities to address multiple regulatory requirements and infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.
MCWRS has established a strong working relationship and open lines of communication with MassDEP and will continue to promote municipal interests. The Coalition hopes that MassDEP’s assumption of delegated authority will allow communities to balance environmental protection and fiscal constraints in a cooperative and realistic permitting process. MCWRS intends to support the Governor’s legislation through testimony and meetings with key legislators during the current session. Read the Coalition’s blog for more details on our history of advocating for primacy.
This week, MCWRS submitted a comment letter to the Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) expressing our support of Bill H.4254 – An Act to enable the Commonwealth’s administration of the Massachusetts Pollution Discharge Elimination System. This legislation would begin the process to have the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) seek delegation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting authority for the Commonwealth. Currently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the program in Massachusetts, while 46 (soon to be 47) other states manage their own NPDES permitting. We have been tracking this legislation and advocating for primacy in recent blog posts and since our 2007 White Paper. Our letter includes references to our Primacy Position Paper and testimony from MCWRS President and Chairman, Phil Guerin, at the May 17 legislative hearing.
As of yesterday morning, JENRA has filed an extension order with a new reporting date of Thursday, June 30. That means there’s still time for all MCWRS members and other supporters of Bill H.4254 to fill in the blanks in this template letter and submit it to the JENRA Committee Co-Chairs and their Representatives or Senators! Find contact information, including email addresses, for your legislators and the JENRA Committee members.
Both the Coalition’s and the template letters highlight some key points we hope our elected officials consider before they cast their votes:
- Voting to delegate authority to MassDEP does not remove EPA from the permit process.
- MassDEP already has delegated authority for drinking water, air quality, and other programs that it is managing with great success.
- EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach to permitting does not consider location-specific environmental, social, and economic factors, whereas MassDEP is more familiar and in tune with the various regions, watersheds, and ecosystems in Massachusetts. Its water quality standards would be more site-specific and based on current scientific knowledge.
- MassDEP management of the program would provide greater opportunity for municipalities to successfully implement integrated water resources planning and address multiple regulatory requirements and community infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.
- Having MassDEP manage the program would ensure consistency with other state-run environmental initiatives.
- MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg has identified the resources needed to successfully run the NPDES program and has committed $4.7 million annually to do so.
- MassDEP will manage NPDES permitting much more effectively and efficiently and produce a balanced program that protects the environment in an economically sustainable way.
We encourage our members to share a copy of their comments. This is a critically important opportunity for MCWRS to demonstrate our strength in numbers and leverage our impact!
It’s finally happened! The Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship (MCWRS) is thrilled to announce that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) plans to take over responsibility for administering the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1. Everyone benefits from clean water, and the Coalition is excited to share that Governor Baker intends to fund administration of the program through the State budget! Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation that does not manage its NPDES program.
The Coalition has been advocating for quite some time for this change. Board members have discussed with Administration staff the details of how the program could best be administered to protect both the environment and communities’ interests. In fact, MCWRS founding member, Tom Walsh (formerly of the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District), sits on MassDEP’s NPDES primacy advisory committee.
“Having MassDEP manage the NPDES program will benefit communities by providing a perspective that is more attune to local issues and is more consistent with state goals and values,” MCWRS President Phil Guerin explained. “A single agency to oversee all water-related regulatory matters also provides greater opportunity for municipalities to successfully implement integrated water resources planning and address multiple regulatory requirements and community infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.”
On April 29, Governor Baker filed the legislation, An Act to Enable the Commonwealth’s Administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, that if passed, will be part of a submittal made by MassDEP to EPA Region 1. “As part of its application, MassDEP will be required to demonstrate that it has developed an effective plan for managing the NPDES program, that its legal authorities are sufficient to meet federal requirements and that a plan for funding is in place. While the formal submission cannot be made until the Baker-Polito Administration’s proposal receives legislative approval, MassDEP is continuing to consult with EPA on delegation requirements and will develop other elements of the plan for submittal.”
The Coalition applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, and MassDEP Commissioner Marty Suuberg for recognizing the critical need for this change. The full press release is available on the Governor’s website: http://1.usa.gov/23dWmR0
Under terms of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), end-of-pipe wastewater discharges into water bodies are regulated by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The NPDES program can be administered either by states or federally by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA currently administers the program in Massachusetts, making us one of only three states to not have delegated authority. Lately, there has been a significant amount of study, discussion, and debate about the wisdom and feasibility of delegating authority to administer the program to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).
We know it’s better to keep water local. Is it also better to keep regulatory matters local? Read MCWRS’s Position Paper to learn about what delegation would mean for MassDEP, and what we think this change to the permitting process would mean for communities. The Position Paper explains why MCWRS supports delegating the NPDES program to MassDEP, with several important caveats to ensure that it is successful and sustainable.
As always, MCWRS welcomes feedback from our members and perspectives from other interested parties. We encourage you to send us your thoughts and ideas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this month, members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) submitted comment letters expressing their concerns regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed use of Residual Designation Authority (RDA).
RDA is a little-known but significant provision in the Clean Water Act that allows EPA or a state administrator the authority to require permits for any stormwater discharge that impairs the quality of a waterbody. The permits could be required even for an unregulated source, and would be included in a new or existing NPDES program. RDA places further burden on the shoulders of municipalities, who are already struggling to fund water quality improvement projects.
In their letter to EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding, Massachusetts Congressional members cited EPA’s 2010 RDA pilot program for the towns of Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham, noting that the cost of compliance was then estimated at $180 million. MCWRS previously submitted a comment letter criticizing the RDA pilot program’s costs of compliance and impacts to municipal resources. In the 2010 program, EPA proposed targeting “all privately owned commercial, industrial, institutional, and high-density residential property” with two acres or more of impervious area in these three towns. Now EPA is proposing reducing the threshold from two acres down to one acre, and expanding the compliance area to the entire Charles River Watershed, which “could potentially result in billions of dollars in costs across the 35 municipalities in the watershed.”
In MassDEP’s letter to NAIOP Massachusetts – The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, Commissioner Martin Suuberg voices concern that “invoking the RDA would be premature” while EPA Region 1 is still finalizing the Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit. Instead, Commissioner Suuberg believes that “we can pursue solutions to this difficult problem that addresses environmental needs in a thoughtful and economically viable way while creating further incentives for green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.”
The Coalition is pleased to have the support of MassDEP and our Congressional members in taking a stand against unwarranted compliance programs and measures.
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!