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Eye On Boise

Idaho’s takeover of NPDES primacy from the EPA is on track, but has price tag for state

Idaho is on track to take over primacy for the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, for the EPA, state Department of Environmental Quality Director Curt Fransen told lawmakers this morning, but there will be costs to the state. Idaho is currently one of just four states that doesn’t have primacy; that means the EPA runs the program in Idaho, including issuing permits for discharges into rivers, streams and lakes. Last year, lawmakers and the governor put in motion a seven-year plan to transition to a state takeover of the program, and authorized hiring three people and spending $300,000; by the end of the phase-in, the program is expected to need 26 positions and cost $2.7 million a year.

“There are clear benefits to the state agency implementing environmental programs in Idaho rather than the federal government,” Fransen told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “Those state programs must meet the national standards. We are much better positioned to also understand the meet the specific needs and interests of the state of Idaho and its citizens.”

Gov. Butch Otter is recommending full funding for the next phase of the primacy takeover next year, at three more full-time positions and $261,400 in ongoing costs. Last year’s bill authorizing the move passed the Legislature unanimously.

Fransen said the state faces an “aggressive” deadline of Sept. 1, 2016 to submit its application for primacy to the EPA; that requires that it have both all rules in place for the program, and staff in place to run it. “We’ve assembled a stakeholder group through the negotiated rule-making process and are holding monthly meetings,” he said. “They’ve been attended to date by well over 100 people per meeting, representing varied interests throughout the state. …  We are pleased with the participation we’ve had, and pleased with the progress to date. … We are on track.”

Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, asked if there was any way the phase-in could be speeded up. Fransen said the “very aggressive schedule” calls for all the rules to be presented to next year’s Legislature. “We have a big body of work to accomplish this year,” he said.

He said it’s still unclear how the full program will ultimately be funded. “We do anticipate that fees will cover a major portion of the program cost,” Fransen said. He said Idaho’s congressional delegation is looking into whether additional federal funds can be directed to the state to help out, but “at this point, that does not seem very likely.” However, they’re still pursuing it. Also, no fees can be charged until Idaho “obtains program authorization and actually begins issuance of the permits. Accordingly, general funds will be necessary during the initial steps of this program.”

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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