The US Environmental Protection Agency will now allow the state of Idaho to oversee the process of issuing permits for pollution discharges into the state’s waterways.
The change gives authority to Idaho to implement its Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which was created in the late 1990s. It will be run by the Department of Environmental Quality.
The new policy had been in the works for some time. It shifts control of permitting and enforcement aspects under the federal Clean Water Act to the state starting July 1.
The new rules cannot be any less stringent than those authorized previously by EPA, and the federal agency will still retain oversight of the program.
The shift in policy is supported by some environmental groups. Austin Hopkins is with the Idaho Conservation League.
“You know one of the issues we face right now in Idaho is a lot of our permits are backlogged, so about 75% of the permits out there right now are technically expired and are known as administratively extended. And so with the state taking over, there’s going to be more permit writers to take care of that backlog, and more permits being taken care of in a timely matter,” Hopkins said.
At the same time, he says, it’s important there is some distance between the permit writers and applicants.
“We just want to make sure there’s not too much pressure applied to the state permit writers or the toxics program, given the proximity to these permittees, cause these are likely to be their neighbors. We just want to feel confident they're writing the permits they need to write to protect the water bodies,” he said.