Gov. Baker wants greater control over state water supply

By STEVE LeBLANC, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker is pushing legislation he said will give Massachusetts greater control over protecting the state’s water supply.
The bill, which will be filed Wednesday, would let the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection administer a federal water quality protection program run by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Massachusetts is just one of four states — along with New Hampshire, Idaho and New Mexico — that still rely directly on the federal government to run the program.
Known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the program regulates public and private discharges of wastewater and storm water.
Baker said his proposal would give the state direct oversight of water quality monitoring, assessment, and water quality standards programs.
“Massachusetts has a proud history of working to protect and improve water quality, and this legislation will provide greater certainty for the commonwealth once federal authority for this program is placed into the hands of our state experts,” Baker said.
He said joining the 46 other states that already have oversight of the federal program will help Massachusetts put into place what he called “a strong, science-based program focused on protecting our natural resources.”
Baker said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is the best agency to oversee the program and write permits that will protect the state’s waters given the agency’s knowledge of local waterbodies.
The Republican governor has proposed spending $1.4 million in his fiscal year 2018 state budget plan to begin making the switch, including hiring 12 new employees to work on the program. Annual costs could rise to $4.7 million when the change is complete.
The bill must be approved by Beacon Hill lawmakers. A similar bill was filed late in the last legislative session, but was referred to a study committee and never reached Baker’s desk.
State Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg said Massachusetts already administers other federal environmental programs.
He said adding the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program to the mix will let the state make holistic decisions about water resources in Massachusetts. As part of the change, he said the state must agree to meet federal clean water standards.
Suuberg said there are about 250 entities in Massachusetts –including municipalities and large industries — that require permits that are issued through the program.
He said the plan to make the switch was in the works even before Donald Trump was elected president.
“We are doing this because it’s just a good idea,” he said.