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EPA sets hearing on Idaho’s plan to handle wastewater

The Environmental Protection Agency will visit Lewiston on Thursday to collect public comments on Idaho’s application to write and administer wastewater discharge permits in the state.

Idaho is one of four states – along with Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico – that doesn’t administer its own version of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System under the Clean Water Act. Instead, the EPA writes, administers and enforces permits that allow municipal wastewater plants, industrial facilities and other producers of pollution to discharge treated water into the state’s lakes, steams and rivers.

Idaho has applied to join most other states in administering the program within its borders. Mark MacIntyre, an EPA spokesman at Seattle, said the Clean Water Act always envisioned states running their own programs.

“That has been the goal from day one,” he said. “That each state would assume the authority to do that. Idaho is the last state in our region to apply and go through the process.”

If the application is approved, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will administer the program, which will be phased in over three years. The EPA will retain oversight of the state program, including the right to review permits, object to permits that don’t meet standards of the Clean Water Act or to finalize a permit if the state doesn’t address the federal agency’s concerns. The EPA also would retain ultimate enforcement authority over permit holders, conduct periodic reviews of the program and would possess the ability to revoke the state’s permit writing authority.

The state Legislature recently boosted the agency’s budget to enable managers to bring on 22 additional full-time employees to do the work. Legislators are expected to give DEQ director John Tippets authority to sign a memorandum of understanding with the EPA that will allow for his agency to take over the program. The Legislature also is expected to fund another seven full-time employees before it takes over.

Officials at the department believe the state can be more responsive to people and companies seeking permits.

“The value added that I see is better communication and customer service with our constituents,” said Michael Camin, DEQ engineering manager at the agency’s Lewiston office. “We want to be able to work with them more immediately and transparently so they can do what they need to do to comply with the rules.”

Thursday’s meeting will be from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Lewiston Community Center and will include an informational session and a formal hearing. The informational presentation will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m., and the formal hearing will start at 6.