Baker Seeks Greater Control Over State Water Supply | NECN
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Baker Seeks Greater Control Over State Water Supply

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    Baker Seeks Greater Control Over State Water Supply

    Gov. Charlie Baker is pushing legislation he said will give Massachusetts greater control over protecting the state's water supply. 

    The Republican filed a bill Wednesday to let the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection administer a federal water quality protection program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

    Massachusetts is just one of four states - along with New Hampshire, Idaho and New Mexico - that still rely 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. 

    Baker said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is the best agency to oversee the program given the agency's knowledge of local waterbodies. 

    Some environmental activists have questioned whether the state would commit the tax dollars needed to maintain the program. 

    "Unless it's adequately funded, and it's not, we have concerns," said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. 

    The administration has proposed spending $1.4 million in the 2018 fiscal year to begin making the switch, including hiring 12 new employees. 

    Baker said the state would commit $4.7 million annually once the change is complete. 

    Bachrach, citing prior budget cuts to state environmental programs, said he wasn't convinced. 

    "Once you make this switch there is no going back," said Bachrach. "Either you are going to commit to funding this or not." 

    State Auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, suggested the Legislature approve "funding mechanisms" to ensure the program is financed. 

    State Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg said officials weighed the possibility of imposing a fee on large commercial water users but decided against it, believing the state can cover the program's costs without new fees. 

    Bump said another argument in favor of the proposal "is the apparent intention of President Donald Trump to deprive the EPA of sufficient resources." 

    Baker acknowledged Trump's environmental priorities were a "concern," but not a major factor in the decision to push the bill, which must be approved by Beacon Hill lawmakers. 

    A similar bill filed late in the last legislative session was referred to a study committee and never reached Baker's desk. 

    Suuberg said Massachusetts already administers other federal environmental programs. 

    Adding the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to the mix will let the state make holistic decisions about water resources, he said. 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 are issued through the program. 

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