State’s DEC Taking Over Some Federal Clean Water Act Powers

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is turning over some of its Clean Water Act authority to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.  This week, DEC  took control of wastewater discharge permits for mines and, in a year, will take over wastewater discharge permits for oil and gas developments.   EPA started transferring it’s wastewater permitting and enforcement authority to the state about two years ago, after approving a request from the state.   Sharmon Stambaugh is DEC’s water quality program manager

Stambaugh says the state has been  taking charge of EPA permitting in four phases.

DEC knew years before taking over the permitting work that staff would have to be ramped up, she says. The legislature has increased DEC’s budget to allow more personnel.  Stambaugh says DEC has the staff to do the job now and points out that DEC has the opportunity to use other state resources, such as the Large Mine Permit Team and it’s own water quality team.

But some Alaska Native groups sued against the EPA’s decision to turn over the permitting, and they were joined by environmental groups, charging that the state is too easy on polluters.  Among the plaintiffs are  tribal governments in Dillingham and Nondalton, and a coalition of Bristol Bay Native corporations.   The concern over the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska is at issue.  If the mine is developed, the state would be charged with the oversight of its wastewater discharges.   The suit is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to make a decision soon.

Stambaugh  says that the   EPA still will have the opportunity to review drafts of state permits and that  the federal agency keeps the authority to take over a state permit if  it  does not agree with the way the state implements the Clean Water Act standards.

Download Audio (MP3)