Infrastructure & Environment

4 States Let Feds Control Pollution Permits, But Not for Long

June 17, 2014

Despite Idaho's vaunted distaste for the federal government, it's one of just four states where getting a permit for dumping pollutants into waterways requires dealing with the federal Environmental Protection Agency instead of the state.

That's changing under a law that quietly cleared the Idaho Legislature without a single opposing vote this year. But the change means Idaho will have to add an estimated 25 employees over the next eight years at the state Department of Environmental Quality - in a GOP-dominated state where lawmakers also spend lots of time about talking about shrinking government.

"I have to suck it up and say yes, it's worth it," said former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, a former Post Falls mayor who pushed persistently for the move during his three terms in the Senate. "I think it really does make more sense than letting the feds do it for us. It's a better way to control our own destiny."

Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, acted as the bill's lead sponsor this year, presenting it in the Legislature, working with the state DEQ and rounding up support.

"We don't view this as an expansion of government," said LaBeau, whose group is the state's largest business lobby. "Whether you're dealing with the EPA or the DEQ … you're dealing with government, and government costs money."

LaBeau said the DEQ in recent years has built up its credibility with industry, environmental groups and lawmakers. The state agency has "the technical capacity to do it, and they have the flexibility to do it appropriately - so that's why we'd rather see that than having 25 employees for EPA being in charge of it," he said.

Plus, the EPA has had huge backlogs in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program in Idaho. The state DEQ currently has no backlogs in the other pollution permitting programs it's authorized to run.

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