Idaho Gains Control of Its Water Pollution Program

Published July 30, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached an agreement with the government of Idaho allowing the state to manage its own water pollution program.

Under the agreement, Idaho took control of the program limiting discharges into its lakes and rivers on July 1.

At a public signing ceremony at Idaho’s capital in June, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “Congratulations to the state of Idaho. We are excited to sign this and look forward to working with Idaho as we go forward on these issues.”

Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter said it was time his state regained control of its water pollution prevention program.

“It’s good to have Idahoans making decisions about Idaho issues,” said Otter after signing the agreement with Pruitt at the Idaho statehouse.

State Pollution Policing

The 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) placed EPA in charge of setting water pollution control standards nationwide, including establishing pollution control programs and setting discharge standards for industries and wastewater standards for municipalities.

CWA made it unlawful to discharge pollutants from a point source into navigable waters unless a permit was obtained through the newly established National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). NPDES set up a permit program to control the discharge of chemicals and other materials into the nation’s surface waters.

CWA charged EPA with setting national limits on water pollution while allowing states to establish programs to limit pollutants and issue water discharge permits. Over time, 46 states met EPA’s requirements for assuming responsibility for their water pollution programs and reached agreements with EPA to take over CWA responsibilities within their boundaries.

With Idaho now in charge of its own water pollution program, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico are the only states that do not oversee surface water pollution enforcement within their borders.

IDEQ’s New Role

Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) began the process of obtaining EPA’s permission to implement a state-run water pollution prevention program in 2014, engaging in protracted public negotiations with EPA that culminated in the June agreement.

Under the agreement, pollution discharge permits IDEQ issues to cities, industrial sites, businesses, mining operators, animal feedlots, and others must meet federal standards, and EPA maintains oversight of IDEQ’s water program.

Speaking at the signing event, IDEQ Director John Tippets said the agency is prepared to keep Idaho’s waters clean.

“I have no reservations about us having the people and the resources to be able to administer this program effectively and appropriately,” said Tippets.

‘Still Under the EPA’s Thumb’

Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, says EPA’s decision to allow IDEQ to manage the state’s water pollution program belatedly and only partially acknowledges the balance between federal and state authorities established in the Constitution.

“It’s kind of funny how EPA, which shouldn’t even exist because the U.S. constitution grants the federal government no power to manage environmental issues, is giving Idaho the power it should have had all along,” Hoffman said. “I agree it’s a step in the right direction, because now businesses don’t have to deal with the federal bureaucracy.

“But remember, we are still under the EPA’s thumb and have to abide by federal regulations,” said Hoffman.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.