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Idaho aims to control water pollution permits

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho hopes to take control of water pollution permits from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which operates only three other state programs in the nation.

The permits limit the amount and type of pollutants that can be dumped into Idaho's waterways.

The state will have to take several steps before the federal agency agrees to the hand-over, including passing laws, setting fees and penalties, and showing that it has the funding, staffing and capability to operate the program, the Spokesman-Review reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/U31Lha ).

The change comes under a law that quietly cleared the Legislature earlier this year and means hiring about 25 employees to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality over the next eight years, a twist in a GOP-dominated state where lawmakers frequently talk about shrinking government, the newspaper reported. At the end of the eight-year process, the new state program will cost up to $3 million a year.

"I have to suck it up and say yes, it's worth it," said former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, 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."

Only Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Hampshire have the EPA running their wastewater permitting programs.

Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, presented the bill to the Legislature and worked with the state environmental officials.

"We don't view this as an expansion of government," LaBeau said. "Whether you're dealing with the EPA or the DEQ . you're dealing with government, and government costs money."

The state has the technical capacity and the flexibility needed to take over the role, LaBeau said. The EPA has had huge backlogs in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program in Idaho, while the state DEQ has no backlogs in the other pollution permit programs it runs.

But others have mixed feelings about the change. Sid Fredrickson, wastewater superintendent for the city of Coeur d'Alene, said the EPA's backlog is unbelievable. The city's sewer plant permit is nine years out of date.

Still, Fredrickson said, that backlog has a benefit: It delays having to make often costly improvements mandated under new permits.

"Every time we get a new permit it's more restrictive, so the longer they put us on an administrative extension the better — the more money we save," he said.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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