And Then There Were Three: Why Is Massachusetts Still Refusing to Seek NPDES Delegation?

As readers of this space know, I have been mystified by the opposition in Massachusetts to obtaining delegation of the NPDES Program.  In my temperate way, I have called it an embarrassment.

I have just learned that Idaho was recently delegated authority to operate the NPDES program.  Now, only Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New Hampshire remain undelegated.

The Boston Globe said that the current arrangement has worked.  Someone apparently failed to tell the Globe editorial staff that, for permits of any complexity, delays of more than 10 years happen routinely.  It’s a new maxim – If it’s broke, don’t fix it.

It saddens me that environmental groups oppose delegation.  It annoys me that they gave Governor Baker an F grade for supporting delegation.  It’s not just that they are wrong; it’s that their opposition indicates that they remain stuck in the past, unable to overcome the historic stereotype of state regulators as being in the pocket of bad-guy polluters.

It’s not where we should be in 2018.

5 thoughts on “And Then There Were Three: Why Is Massachusetts Still Refusing to Seek NPDES Delegation?

  1. As part of the consulting team that studied this issue 20 years ago for the State of Alaska, the principal arguments against delegation were:

    * The State could achieve all it wanted through it’s own parallel permits and its process of water quality certification of the Federal permits

    * The resource requirements were substantial for visiting and verifying permit information on major dischargers. Inaccurate information was regularly provided by dischargers who were visited less than twice a year.

    I agree with you about the “who’s in the polluters pockets” argument. It is ironic that in Massachusetts it seems regulators at all levels sometimes seem obligated to over-reach for politically correct anti-discharger arguments.

  2. I understand and the resource argument is certainly a focus of the opposition. I just don’t buy it. Whatever the state does, I don’t think we’re going to see delays beyond what EPA manages to produce. And environmental groups lobby for more and more stringent regulations all the time even absent funding in place to make the new programs work. Why should NPDES delegation be treated differently

  3. Inadequately funded regulatory oversight never seems to work well. I favor (adequately funded) NPDES delegation here, but for a different reason : I don’t trust the present iteration of EPA HQ to make intelligent, well-informed decisions in favor of environmental protection. Should HQ influence be forced down upon Region 1, there could be substantive problems beyond delays ahead.

  4. Hesitant to weigh in on a MA-specific issue, but maybe that makes my perspective more valuable in some respects since I have no dog in this. I guess the bottom line isn’t yes or no on the delegation, but just what are the conditions of delegation. If I were the dictator of MA, I’d say, yes definitely to delegation and then proceed to actually hire the proper number of people to both issue permits on time AND to enforce violations of the law.

    Here’s the problem from maybe the closest cousin MD (wealthy blue state with a GOP GOV). When our “moderate” GOP governor took over, enforcement plummeted to levels that were in many cases worse than what we saw at EPA last year. Worse, he’s made political hay of it refusing to appropriate the money that the Leg. set aside for filling vacant inspection/enforcement positions.

    As long as a certain party in this country decides that it’s modern take on environmental protection is to not protect the environment (and many of MD’s historic leaders on the Chesapeake Bay were Republicans by the way!) then I don’t know that I’d support any attempt by a GOP Governor to accept delegation without some concrete assurances about staffing levels and a few other critical policies. Maybe Baker is willing to do that and I’m just not privy to those details. And yes, I recognize that Wheeler’s EPA may at least temporarily prove to be less protective than a fully authorized MADEP would be.

    Still, tread carefully before making this leap.

  5. I’ll gladly swap you Missouri for MA. If you want to see a state agency in the pocket of polluters, come on out to the Midwest. I’d rather take my chances with Trump’s EPA.

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