MMA letter to Environment and Natural Resources Committee urging support for DEP’s efforts to obtain delegation over NPDES program

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The Honorable Paul A. Schmid III, House Chair
The Honorable Anne M. Gobi, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture 
State House
Boston, MA

Dear Representative Schmid, Senator Gobi, and Members of the Committee,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer our strong support of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP) efforts to obtain delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the National Pollutants Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, the federal program that regulates water quality. The bill before you today, H. 4254, would make state law consistent with the federal Clean Water Act and authorize MassDEP to apply to the EPA for delegation. The MMA believes that MassDEP is a very strong, effective and fair regulator, and is best equipped to administer the NPDES program.

The NPDES water quality program includes administration, permitting, compliance, inspection and enforcement activities for facilities that discharge effluent into surface waters, as well as stormwater managed by over 250 communities. Massachusetts is one of only three states that do not have delegated authority to oversee NPDES programs, with 46 state departments of environmental protection administering the program and the state of Idaho currently in the process of obtaining delegation.

The MMA has been very involved in this discussion over the past few months, through participation in MassDEP’s NPDES advisory group and conversations with the Administration. The NPDES advisory group met three times over the past several months, and has discussed implementation, staffing, cost, funding and other aspects of the administration of the program. In addition, the MMA has been working closely with DEP over the past year as the EPA was preparing to issue the new stormwater permits for Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4 permits). MassDEP has been an excellent partner to cities and towns as we continue to discuss the cost and requirements in the permit that was released last month.

This legislation is an essential step in MassDEP’s obtaining delegation over this program. The bill would make technical changes to the state’s Clean Waters Act to make it consistent with federal law. The bill also specifically authorizes MassDEP to begin to process of applying to the EPA for delegation.

It is very important to note that it is the EPA’s responsibility to decide whether MassDEP will receive delegated authority, based on the EPA’s determination as to whether the agency has adequate resources, staffing and capacity to assume responsibility for oversight of the NPDES program. This legislation is just one necessary step in the overall process.

There are many advantages to having MassDEP manage and oversee the NPDES and MS4 stormwater permit process, including:

Strong Relationship with Cities and Towns
Many communities and local officials have a very strong relationship with MassDEP. Since DEP is closer to our cities and towns, its staff works to provide assistance to our communities, and many local officials have more experience in working with DEP than with the EPA. MassDEP works with our communities on a variety of other regulatory issues and administers several other federal programs such as the drinking water program and hazardous waste programs. We believes that MassDEP has a more thorough understanding of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, and we know that MassDEP is a strong regulator that will run a robust program. MassDEP’s research on this issue has given the department a full understanding of the responsibilities involved, based on a thorough examination of how other states manage the implementation and administration of the NPDES program, and in in-depth discussions with the NPDES advisory committee.

Opportunities for Integrated Water Management
Municipalities currently manage and balance requirements for many permits, including wastewater, stormwater and other water resource programs. These permits set timelines for addressing water quality issues. Managing water through a more holistic and cross-functional approach would simplify the process for permittees, and would benefit overall water quality. If MassDEP administers the NPDES program, this would provide enhanced opportunities for integrated water management, as most permits that communities are impacted by would be managed by one agency. This would allow multiple water quality issues to be addressed in a timely and coordinated manner, an outcome that is only possible with an integrated approach.

Enhanced Technical Assistance and Municipal Outreach
DEP would offer enhanced technical assistance to cities and towns, which would strengthen permit compliance and advance progress on environmental issues. The department is already planning on coordinating technical assistance and information-sharing on stormwater issues. MassDEP has been very helpful in providing outreach to our communities. For instance, MassDEP has developed a web page to aid cities, towns and regional stormwater coalitions in providing customizable educational materials on stormwater to four different audiences, a requirement of the new MS4 permit.

Better Information on Water Quality Conditions
Delegated authority would allow DEP to provide better information on water quality conditions across the Commonwealth. Permits would be based on up-to-date local conditions. MassDEP has carefully considered its strategy in moving forward with delegation and has put extensive thought into the allocation of staffing resources. In addition to having staff to work on permitting, they would assign staff to assess and monitor water quality. This data would not only allow for permitting decisions based on up-to-date science, but would allow the Commonwealth to have a better sense of water quality conditions across the state.

Stormwater Permits
The Administration’s decision to move forward with delegation of the NPDES program is particularly timely, as the EPA has just issued new stormwater regulations for cities and town. In keeping with MassDEP’s commitment to strong environmental regulation, the agency co- issued the new MS4 permit with the EPA, and is committed to the permit framework and requirements, yet MassDEP is also sensitive to making the implementation process affordable for local taxpayers and ratepayers.

In 2009, the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission estimated that it could cost communities approximately $18 billion over the next 20 years to meet new federal stormwater requirements. This is on top of the $10.2 billion gap in resources needed to adequately maintain drinking water systems, and an $11.2 billion shortfall for resources needed to maintain wastewater infrastructure.

This bill will not change the new MS4 stormwater regulations, but MMA believes that MassDEP’s greater understanding of our cities and towns would lead to enhanced flexibility and responsiveness as the permits are implemented.

Advisory Committee
The MMA supports the addition of an advisory committee to provide input to MassDEP. The group would be charged with meeting periodically to discuss issues related to implementation and administration of the NPDES program. The advisory committee would include the MassDEP Commissioner, MMA, the Massachusetts Water Works Association and other important stakeholders. The advisory committee would create a forum for continued dialogue between the Administration and cities and towns.

We respectfully request that the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture support and advance this important legislation as soon as possible. Passage of H. 4254 would give MassDEP a more powerful and effective role in maintaining high water quality standards in the Commonwealth, while continuing to provide assistance, outreach and support to cities, towns and taxpayers.

Thank you very much. 

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith 
MMA Executive Director & CEO