MMA testifies in support of NPDES delegation

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The MMA joined state officials on Oct. 10 in urging the Legislature to enact a bill that would begin the process for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to obtain authority over the National Pollutants Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program.
The federal water quality program is currently administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The bill, filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, would make 16 technical changes to the state’s Clean Waters Act to make it consistent with federal law and would formally authorize the MassDEP to apply to the EPA to take authority over the program.
Testifying at the Oct. 10 hearing before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton and MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg expressed their support for the legislation.
Committee members asked several questions relative to the funding of the program and staffing levels at the MassDEP. Suuberg spoke about his agency’s work in assessing how much staffing is needed – about 40 additional full-time positions – to run a successful NPDES program. He said the program would be funded through a budget appropriation, which the DEP estimates would require $4.7 million annually.
An MMA panel of Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, Framingham Town Manager Robert Halpin and Charlton Town Administrator Robin Craver also testified in support of the bill.
Craver and Hawke discussed their positive experiences working with the MassDEP and said an agency based in the state can provide more technical assistance than a federal agency. Halpin spoke about Framingham’s leadership on water management issues and how an integrated approach would help cities and towns.
Also testifying in support of the bill were Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin and representatives from the Massachusetts Water Works Association, American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, Environmental Business Council of New England, NAIOP Massachusetts, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship and several other municipal and public works officials.
Representatives from the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and a number of watershed and environmental advocacy groups testified in opposition.
Gov. Baker filed the same legislation during the previous legislative session.
In 2016, the MMA and other stakeholders participated in the MassDEP’s NPDES Advisory Committee to study the issue of delegation.
The NPDES program includes permitting, 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 250 cities and towns. The municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) permit, recently issued by the EPA, falls under the NPDES program.
Forty-six other states have obtained delegated authority over the NPDES program.