January 15, 2020
Senator Brownie Carson
Representative Ralph Tucker
Environment and Natural Resources Committee
c/o Legislative Information Office 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333
ENR [at] legislature [dot] maine [dot] gov
Re: Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Support of LD 1832: An Act To Ensure Adequate Funding for the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Waste Discharge Licensing Program
Dear Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and Distinguished Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee,
Friends of Casco Bay offers the following testimony in support of LD 1832: An Act To Ensure Adequate Funding for the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MEPDES) and Waste Discharge Licensing (WDL) Program. This funding is critical to Maine’s continued success in improving and protecting the health of its waters for sustenance, commerce, recreation, and solace.
For 30 years, Friends of Casco Bay has worked to improve and protect the health of Casco Bay. During our tenure, we have advocated for and witnessed improved water quality through the MEPDES permit program. Here are three examples:
- MEPDES permits have reduced bacteria and toxic pollutant loads to Casco Bay and its tributaries, resulting in healthier waters for fishing and recreation.
- Recent permits have required sewage treatment facilities that discharge into Casco Bay to test for nitrogen and, in some instances, reduce nitrogen loads to Casco Bay. Excess nitrogen can fertilize large blooms of macro-algae that smother marine life and harmful micro-algal blooms that can close areas to harvesting and aquaculture. As the blooms die, they release carbon dioxide, which mixes with sea water to make it more acidic. This process is known as coastal acidification. The East End wastewater treatment facility in Portland has seasonally reduced its nitrogen load by an average of 64-70% over the past two years. Eelgrass beds near the discharge pipe are beginning to rebound and an algal bloom that had been present in outer Back Cove disappeared.
- In the near future, we hope to see more stringent terms in the general permit that regulates stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4 permit). The comment period on the draft MS4 permit recently closed. Based on the draft, the new MS4 permit likely will include testing for certain pollutants in the storm water system to eliminate sources and also measures to help restore urban impaired streams.
This level of success cannot continue without adequate funding and staffing at DEP. The funding requested in LD 1832 represents a fraction of the budget needed to run the MEPDES program and a wise investment to improve and protect the waters that form a backbone of our economy and way of life.
The MEPDES program and its role in restoring and protecting Maine waters: Senator Edmund Muskie introduced the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA). He knew firsthand that Maine’s rivers and coastal waters were fouled with industrial chemicals that made people sick and poisoned waters for drinking, fishing and swimming. The CWA created the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) program. That program makes it illegal for facilities (known as point sources) to discharge pollutants to waters of the United States without a permit. The permit limits the amount of pollutants that can be discharged, in order to maintain or restore water quality; it is illegal to degrade water quality. NPDES permits are issued for 5 year terms, allowing regulators to adjust limits based on new technology or new water quality issues. The CWA also allows for enforcement when permit terms are violated.
The CWA authorizes EPA to delegate its authority to states to run the NPDES program, subject to federal oversight. If a state does not run its program effectively, EPA can take back control.
In April 2000, EPA delegated its NPDES authority to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Our program became known as the MEPDES permit program.
The Memorandum of Agreement authorizing this delegation of authority requires Maine to process permits in a timely manner, comprehensively evaluate and assess compliance, take vigorous and timely enforcement actions, maintain effective pretreatment programs, and issue annual reports to EPA. To fulfill the terms of this agreement, DEP must have adequate staff and funding.
Why a fee increase is needed: To fulfill the terms of this agreement, DEP must have adequate staff and funding to administer the approximately 940 MEPDES permits it issues to about 400 point source discharges, 500 facilities under the Industrial Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP), and 40 entities licensed under the MS4 general permit.
The legislature has not approved a fee increase since 2008. Maine needs these license fees to partially fund the MEPDES program.
According to DEP, it has only 28 core staff (Full Time Equivalents – FTEs) to cover licensing, compliance/technical assistance, enforcement, administration, data management, and the water quality monitoring/modeling inherent to the MEPDES program. Only 6 of those positions are funded by licensing fees. The other 22 positions are funded by federal grants, state general fund, and State Revolving Fund administrative revenue. Two of the federally funded positions (enforcement and permitting) have been held vacant for several years due to a projected shortfall in a federal water grant account. This has led to a backlog of enforcement cases and delays in licensing. In addition, a stormwater inspector position that is funded by stormwater license fees has been held vacant due to insufficient revenue to fill the position.
LD 1832 seeks a 40% across the board fee increase to keep the MEPDES program solvent through FY 2026. Based on conversations with DEP officials, it appears that the State has done what it can to minimize fee increases and to not shift undue financial burden to permittees, which includes municipalities. This investment in clean water may appear difficult but is a modest fee increase when compared to the expenses of restoring impaired waters and the possibility of losing our delegated authority to run the MEPDES program, if the State is unable to fulfill its obligations.
For these reasons, we urge you to vote that LD 1832 ought to pass.
Ivy L. Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay
43 Slocum Drive
South Portland, ME 04106
Office: (207) 799-8574 ext. 202
Cell: (207) 831-3067
ifrignoca [at] cascobay [dot] org
Cc: Sabrina Carey