New Clouds on the Storm(water) Front: EPA Takes Enforcement Action Against 9 Municipalities

As we have reported, EPA and MADEP have both been taking steps over the past year to broaden the scope of their stormwater programs beyond existing regulation under the rules concerning stormwater discharges associated with industrial or construction activity. EPA has proposed using residual designation authority in Maine and Massachusetts and the MADEP proposed sweeping rules governing existing private facilities.

In the regulated community, there has been substantial concern that these efforts have focused too narrowly on private properties, with the MADEP proposed rules, for example, potentially requiring costly retrofits on many properties without consideration of whether there might be more cost-effective ways to control stormwater pollution, such as through increased focus on MS4s.

Based on this week’s news, EPA may have heard these complaints.

On Wednesday, EPA Region I announced enforcement actions against municipalities for violations of MS4 requirements. EPA proposed to fine nine communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; EPA also issued orders requiring that the municipalities take certain actions to come into compliance with the MS4 requirements.  Given the current economic climate and the erosion in municipal budgets, the willingness to impose penalties demonstrates EPA’s seriousness in enforcing the MS4 requirements.

So why does the private sector need to remain worried? One word in the first sentence of EPA’s press release says it all: “integrated.”  Wednesday’s enforcement announcement was part of “a new integrated effort” to enforce stormwater requirements.  While this notice was focused on illegal connections to storm sewers, is there any doubt that this is also part of a broader “integrated” effort to attack stormwater pollution more generally?  Now, when EPA and MADEP come calling on the private sector, the agencies can respond to complaints about unequal focus by noting that they have already made municipalities take their medicine; now it’s time for the private sector to do so as well.

Spoonful of sugar, anyone?

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