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House panel clears wastewater primacy bill, sends to full House

The House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee today voted unanimously in favor of HB 406, legislation to launch a seven-year process to have the state of Idaho take over primacy for wastewater permitting under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, though many questions were raised during a hearing on the bill. The measure now moves to the full House for a vote, with a recommendation that it “do pass.”

Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, presented the bill and said costs could be split three ways, between the federal government, the state, and permit-holders. “There’s no guarantee it would go that way,” he said after the meeting, but that was the split the state last estimated in a 2005 study. Since then, the state hasn’t moved toward primacy largely because of costs – without state and federal funding, the full costs would fall on those who apply for permits, which include municipalities as well as private companies.

Asked if the state and federal government are likely to fund the move to primacy, LaBeau said, “We believe they can and should.” Total costs for a state-run permitting operation are estimated at a little less than $3 million a year; the bill estimates first-year costs next year at $300,000.

Idaho is now one of just four states that don’t have primacy for the program, meaning the EPA handles permitting in the state, rather than the state Department of Environmental Quality; it’s a situation under which Idaho cities and businesses have chafed. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States, from confined animal feeding operations to municipal wastewater systems. Idaho currently has nearly 1,000 such permits, with about half held by municipalities. HB 406’s co-sponsors are Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, and Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, chairman of the House Environment Committee that approved the bill today.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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