Last week Governor Baker reintroduced a bill opposed by environmentalists last legislative session that would allow Massachusetts to take over the water pollution permitting program from U.S. EPA. Under the federal Clean Water Act, EPA currently regulates discharges of stormwater, wastewater and industrial pollution into our waterways. The governor’s bill would enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to assume “primacy” for issuing these permits, known as National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits.
Charles River Watershed Association, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and other environmental groups oppose this bill because it will provide no environmental benefit and cost MA taxpayers millions of dollars each year. MassDEP is also already struggling to perform core monitoring, assessment, reporting and research on water quality across the state.
Clean rivers foster recreation and support wildlife
Why we oppose the delegation of the NPDES program to the Commonwealth
- MassDEP is severely underfunded and lacks the capacity to take on a new highly specialized program. In the past decade funding cuts and reductions in staffing have left MassDEP struggling to do more with less. The Boston Globe reported this week that agency funding and staff cuts have led to a steep decline in enforcement of environmental laws. MassDEP’s current water programs have suffered from these budget cuts.
- Administering this program will cost the state upwards of $4.7 million annually. A 2013 study by MassDEP estimated the program cost at $10 million annually. Because the governor’s bill does not provide a dedicated source of funding for this new program, the state legislature would need to appropriate funding every year. There is no reason to expect the pattern of cuts to MassDEP’s budget to change, leaving our water resources vulnerable to more pollution.
- EPA has done a great job of protecting our water since the 1970's. EPA provides this program to Massachusetts courtesy of all U.S. taxpayers.
NPDES delegation is forever
Perhaps you are asking yourself, "Couldn’t Massachusetts could do a better job protecting our streams and rivers now that EPA is under attack?” However, Massachusetts water programs are already weak due to state budget cuts and MassDEP lacks the trained staff to takeover the NPDES program. In contrast, EPA has a solid track record of administering this program. The current federal administration in Washington is temporary, but NPDES primacy, once granted, is forever. This legislation is not in response to the current political situation—Governor Baker previously introduced this bill in April of 2016.
We need to "Fit it First"!
CRWA advocates for a "fix it first" approach to water quality protection in Massachusetts. We support legislation filed by Rep. Dave Rogers, Cambridge (H. 2139) that would task the state’s Water Resources Commission with conducting a “gap analysis” to assess how well MassDEP is carrying out its existing responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, and what would be required (and the cost) for us to have a strong state program. Until MassDEP has the funding and other resources to perform its water quality monitoring, assessment, reporting, standard-setting, science, water pollution control plan development, and compliance and enforcement responsibilities, it is premature to add a new permitting program.
Where does the bill go next?
The bill, An Act to enable the Commonwealth's administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (H. 2777) has been referred to the joint committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture for hearing. The committee last year did not report the governor’s bill out, sending it to study instead. CRWA will be testifying again in opposition to this bill.
Stay tuned for CRWA updates on the hearing schedule and for calls to your legislators in opposition to this bill.