State Politics

Senate panel approves water permitting rules

An employee cleans algae off a primary clarifier at an old waste water treatment plant in Meridian.
An employee cleans algae off a primary clarifier at an old waste water treatment plant in Meridian.

The Senate Resources and Environment Committee approved rules Monday to transfer permitting of water pollution from the federal government to Idaho.

The committee approved the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program that would permit industries and municipalities that today go to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program is expected to cost $3 million for 29 full time employees the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality would hire to run the program.

Idaho taxpayers would foot $2 million of the $3 million cost from the general fund with larger industries, cities and others who are permitted covering $1 million. Large industries would pay about $13,000 for the permitting while municipalities could pay tens of thousands depending on their size.

Smaller companies and entities such as irrigation districts and recreational dredge miners would not have to pay, said Barry Burnell, DEQ Water Quality Administrator. The rules had wide support from industry, which pushed the legislation to take over the program and environmentalists.

It's major impact will be reducing the backlog of permit renewals both sides didn't like. Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League said the backlog allowed more pollution than the new permits, which will be issued by the state.

To get control, the state had to commit to meet the same standards set by the Congress in the Clean Water Act.

"We can't be any less stringent than EPA," Burnell said.

The rules will allow the state to drop permitting programs if the EPA no longer is required to permit, which is one of the reasons the Idaho Water User's Association supported the rules, said Norm Semanko, Idaho Water Users Association executive director.

"We would rather across the table with our friends at DEQ than someone in Washington D.C.," Semanko said.

Since the rule includes fees both the House and Senate must approve it. In addition, two statutory changes are necessary to ensure the permits are open for public review and the meet federal appeal requirements.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker