Water: It’s Time for MassDEP to Take Control

Now is the time for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to be given delegated authority by EPA over National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) programs, along with the funding needed to adequately administer the program.

A NPDES permit is required for any discharges of pollutants from a point source into navigable waters of the US. As required by law, EPA or the state must set limits on the amount of pollutants that facilities may discharge into a waterbody.

To date, 46 states have been authorized to administer the federal NPDES permit program. Massachusetts is just one of four states in the nation (along with Idaho, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) where the federal government is in charge of the permit issuance, compliance and enforcement (with 2,990 NPDES permit holders in Massachusetts).

However, MassDEP is better equipped than EPA to concentrate on Massachusetts specific issues and develop permits with a more complete understanding of local conditions.

Currently, MassDEP jointly issues NPDES permits with EPA. Having MassDEP as the sole permitting authority, with EPA limited to an oversight role, would result in a more efficient permitting process. In addition, as the NPDES program continues to evolve in response to increased concerns over issues like nutrient loading and stormwater impacts, MassDEP would have greater control over policy decisions. These could be more effective with a program redesign, the heightened use of science, and coordination on managing all pollution sources in a watershed.

For this delegation to succeed, appropriate resources would be needed (estimated at under $10 million per year) to ensure a carefully coordinated approach to watershed management.

Massachusetts has an excellent national reputation as a leader in environmental protection, permitting, compliance and enforcement. MassDEP has implemented many successful environmental regulatory programs, with some being the models used by other states.  After years of discussion, Massachusetts needs to assume the responsibility for wastewater permitting by taking NPDES authorization over from EPA.

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