Opposing NPDES Delegation to Massachusetts Is So 20th Century

On Tuesday, the Boston Globe joined most local environmental organizations in opposing delegation of the NPDES program to Massachusetts.  How wrong is this?  Let me count the ways.

  1. Donald Trump
  1. Even recognizing, as the Globe points out, that presidential administrations are only four years, does anyone seriously expect the federal EPA budget to be anything other than massively underfunded for the foreseeable future?
  1. The Globe says that the current arrangement, while “unusual,” has “worked.” Methinks that the Globe editorial staff has been taking too much advantage of marijuana legalization in Massachusetts.  Did they bother to ask – or did any of the environmental organizations bother to tell them – how long it currently takes EPA to renew NPDES permits in Massachusetts?  For permits of any complexity, delays of more than ten years are not uncommon.  The Globe’s definition of a program that works is different than mine.
  1. The Globe did not mention that MA is one of only three states – the other two being New Hampshire and Idaho – that don’t have NPDES delegation. This is the company we want to keep?  Blue states such as the entire west coast and the mid-Atlantic states manage to operate NPDES programs without kowtowing to polluters.  Why can’t we?
  1. The Globe’s editorial closes with the argument that turning

oversight of river pollution to the state brings polluters one step closer to their regulators, and that would be a mistake.

To which I can only say, how clueless can the Globe get?  The reason to support delegation is not that it’s a good idea in spite of “bringing polluters closer to regulators,” but precisely because it would bring polluters closer to regulators!  That’s why it’s a good idea.

I had thought that we were past the point in Massachusetts of casting the regulated community as the devil and the regulators as the angels.  Regulatory programs work best when the regulators and the polluters do know each other, and get to understand each other’s problems, and can work together for positive-sum results.  That’s why environmentalists should support NPDES delegation.

Opposition to delegation is simply an embarrassment.

3 thoughts on “Opposing NPDES Delegation to Massachusetts Is So 20th Century

  1. I am not a MA resident. But let me offer the experience of MD, a similarly wealthy blue state. Our environmental agency has lost more than a third of its workforce over the last 15 years. It also fails to renew permits for years on end (our largest county has operated on one MS4 permit since 2010). EPA has been facing calls from advocates to end MD’s delegation agreement for years due to a lack of adequate funding (and disagreements over policies too). A simple google search seems to confirm that MA has a strikingly similar problem to MD (google “Mass. is enforcing its environmental rules less”).

    I would offer a compromise solution. Support a bill seeking delegation in exchange for provisions mandating certain staffing levels, budget appropriations (indexed), and a few key enforcement policies. Otherwise, you’ll have the same problems from a different regulator.

  2. I hear you, and those are the arguments that the opponents are making, but I’m not persuaded. EPA takes 10-15 years to review NPDES permit renewals. I don’t see even a budget-starved MassDEP doing worse. And the EPA budgets are about to get much worse themselves.

    The budget issues shouldn’t be driving this.

    • I’m with Evan on this one, having studied this for the State of Alaska. Take the program but only with legislative commitment to fund permit writing and follow- up inspections once per year for minor discharges and twice for majors.

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