Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

Proposed changes to NPDES permitting threaten Massachusetts' rivers

Posted by Margaret VanDeusen

3/13/17 5:05 PM

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

  1. 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.   
  2. 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.
  3. 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 will hold a hearing about this bill on Tuesday, October 10th. CRWA will be testifying again in opposition to this bill. 


Take Action

On Tuesday October 10th, the state senators and representatives of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture will be hearing this bill and deciding whether or not to transfer the NPDES program. The hearing will be held at 1pm in room A-1 at the Massachusetts State House. 

Please call one or a few of the below Committee members and tell them to oppose H.2777. Please consider calling the legislator who lives closest to your town.

  • Honorable Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (617-722-1540)
  • Honorable William Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (617-722-2210)
  • Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury) (617-722-1348)
  • Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) (617-722-1120)
  • Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) (617-722-1350)
  • Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) (617-722-1570)
  • Senator Ryan Fattman (D-Webster) (617-722-1420)
  • Representative RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere) (617-722-2210)
  • Representative Thomas Petrolati (D-Ludlow) (617-722-2255)
  • Representative Robert Koczera (D-New Bedford) (617-722-2582)
  • Representative Mary Keefe (D-Worcester) (617-722-2210)
  • Representative John Velis (D-Westfield) (617-722-2877)
  • Representative Christine Barber (D-Somerville) (617-722-2210)
  • Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth)  (617-722-2430)
  • Representative Jack Lewis (D-Framingham) (617-722-2460)
  • Representative Donald Berthiaume (D-Spencer) (617-722-2090)
  • Representative James Kelcourse (D-Amesbury) (617-722-2130)


Below is a sample script for your phone calls:

“Hello, my name is _____________ and I live in ______________, Massachusetts. I am calling to ask that Representative/Senator _____________ opposes House bill 2777, An Act to enable the Commonwealth’s administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. I am worried that this could hurt water quality in Massachusetts. MassDEP does not have the resources to take on this new program, and I think it should remain with the EPA. Thank you for your consideration.”  [Refer to the talking points above if you need them].



Topics: U.S. EPA, Stormwater, Pollution, Charles River Pollution, Advocacy

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About Charles River Watershed Association:

One of the country's oldest watershed organizations, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles. Since its earliest days of advocacy, CRWA has figured prominently in major clean-up and watershed protection efforts, working with government officials and citizen groups from 35 Massachusetts watershed towns from Hopkinton to Boston. Initiatives over the last fifty years have dramatically improved the quality of water in the watershed and fundamentally changed approaches to water resource management.