Gov. Baker files bill to obtain authority over water quality program

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Gov. Baker announces legislation to obtain authority over NPDES water program.Gov. Charlie Baker announced yesterday that his administration has filed legislation that would begin the process for the state to obtain authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration to administer the federal water quality program.
 
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program includes permits, compliance, inspection and enforcement activities for facilities, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants, that discharge effluent into surface waters, as well as stormwater managed by more than 260 cities and towns.
 
Massachusetts is among only four states that do not currently administer the program at the state level.
 
“Massachusetts has a proud history of working to protect and improve water quality, and this legislation will provide greater certainty for the Commonwealth once federal authority for this program is placed into the hands of our state experts,” said Gov. Baker. “By joining 46 other states with the federal delegation, the Commonwealth will be able to implement a strong, science-based program focused on protecting our natural resources. With its comprehensive knowledge of the Commonwealth’s water bodies and communities, [the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection] is uniquely suited to write permits that will protect our state’s waters.”
 
The legislation would make 16 technical changes to state law in order to be consistent with the federal Clean Water Act. In addition, the legislation would explicitly authorize the MassDEP to apply to the EPA for delegated authority.
 
The MMA has supported the Baker administration in its efforts to pursue delegated authority over the NPDES program, citing the strong relationship between the DEP and cities and towns, and how delegation could provide flexibility for cities and towns and more opportunities for integrated water management.
 
State Auditor Suzanne Bump released a statement calling the governor’s proposal “the right decision for municipalities because it will help create a more holistic water regulatory system, providing a simpler process for permitting projects.” The auditor also suggested that the Legislature consider other funding mechanisms for the program in addition to annual appropriations.
 
The auditor’s Division of Local Mandates released a report earlier this year recommending that the Legislature pass a bill to allow MassDEP to move forward in its efforts to pursue delegated authority.
 
The municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) permit, issued by the EPA last year, falls under the NPDES program. The MassDEP co-issued the new five-year MS4 permit with the EPA, but does not have delegated authority. If Massachusetts becomes a delegated state, the DEP would administer future MS4 permits.
 
The governor’s budget proposes $1.4 million to begin the process of having the MassDEP assume delegated authority from the EPA to oversee the NPDES program. The $1.4 million would fund 12 DEP staff positions to begin the transition to becoming the lead agency. The MassDEP estimates that administration of the program will cost $4.7 million annually.
 
Link to the governor’s filing letter for An Act to Enable the Commonwealth’s Administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System