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Ag industry supports state running NPDES program

Sean Ellis
A bill that would give the state primacy over the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in Idaho is moving through the Idaho Legislature. Idaho's agricultural industry supports the legislation because they prefer to deal with state regulators rather than the EPA.

BOISE — Much of Idaho’s agricultural community supports an effort to have the state, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, administer and enforce the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program in Idaho.

A bill that would give Idaho primacy over the program passed out of a legislative committee and is awaiting a full vote on the House floor.

The legislation would give Idaho primacy over the program, which is authorized under the Clean Water Act and requires anyone who discharges wastewater or stormwater directly into waters of the United States to receive a permit that requires them to achieve certain water quality standards.

In Idaho, the NPDES program affects the state’s aquaculture and dairy industries, canals that use aquatic herbicides, food processors, feedlots and concentrated animal feeding operations.

Idaho is one of four states that doesn’t have primacy over the program. Agricultural leaders say Idaho’s farming community would much rather deal with state regulators than EPA.

“As much as we’ve been challenged working with EPA over the years, we much prefer to (work) with a state agency,” said Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko.

One of the main benefits of having the state run the program is that Idaho could create its own enforcement matrix that includes varying degrees of violations and fines, said Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead.

“With EPA, a violation is a violation,” he said.

He also said that some permit holders are having to wait five to six years to receive a permit and industry believes permits will be issued in a much more timely manner if Idaho runs the program.

One of the big sticking points to having the state run the program is the cost. EPA covers the cost of the program now but the state and permittees would have to pay for the program if Idaho runs it. 

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which introduced the bill, estimates it would cost Idaho about $2.5 million per year to run the program itself. 

Any fees and other program details would be established during a lengthy rule-making process. That process could take up to seven years, IACI President Alex LaBeau told lawmakers.

“It is an extensive process and it will be relatively contentious process when we get into rule-making,” he said.

Because the program will be self-funded, nobody really knows how much the fees for permit holders will be at this point, said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association.

“There are a number of (NPDES) permits out there that affect agriculture and I think you will see agriculture being very supportive of (the bill),” he said. “But the hesitancy is going to be, how much is it going to cost?”

There have been attempts to have Idaho take over the program before, Olmstead said, but industry has never been in full agreement.

“It appears this year that the stars have aligned and most everybody is in agreement,” he said.



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