NEWS

Mackie Shea Durning PC Secures Decision from SJC to Protect Concord’s Drinking Water Withdrawals from Nagog Pond

On March 11, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its decision in the litigation among Concord, Littleton, and Acton regarding the Towns’ respective rights to use Nagog Pond as a drinking water source.  

 

Mackie Shea Durning PC successfully represented Concord in the SJC and in the prior proceeding in the Land Court on this Water Law case. 

All three towns were given rights to access Nagog Pond from an act of the state legislature in 1884, but Concord is the only town that has exercised its right of withdrawal. Concord exercised its rights under the 1884 Act in 1909 and has been using Nagog Pond for drinking water ever since. Following the passage of the Water Management Act (WMA) in 1985, Concord applied for and received a Registration from the State which grandfathered its existing withdrawal volume at Nagog Pond.

The central issue in the litigation was whether Littleton and Acton could supersede Concord’s WMA Registration based on a provision of the 1884 Act that reserved a priority withdrawal right for those two towns.

The SJC concluded the 1884 Act remained viable and still gave each of the three towns the ability to use Nagog Pond as a water supply. However, the SJC also ruled the legislature’s decision to adopt the WMA and its structure of protecting and grandfathering existing withdrawals under a separate classification of registration, effectively repealed the priority provision in the 1884 Act.

Mackie Shea Durning PC specializes in environmental law and has deep experience in a range of water supply and wastewater issues, supporting cities, towns and developers to address critical drinking water supply and wastewater management goals. The team of attorneys working with the Town of Concord on this matter included Peter Durning, John Shea, Gail Magenau Hire and Peter Vetere.

 

 

Results of MassDEP’s Construction and Demolition Facility Request For Information

Last July and August, MassDEP sent a Request for Information (RFI) to all large construction and demolition (C&D) waste handling facilities regarding their compliance with the Minimum Performance Standard (MPS) guidance adopted by the Department in February 2020.  In very brief summary, the MPS guidance established a minimum 15% “Process Separation Rate” (PSR) for large C&D handling facilities (including both C&D processing and large C&D transfer stations).  In addition, a facility must remove waste banned materials “to the greatest extent possible” meaning that 15% removal is the floor and “the greatest extent possible” is the ceiling.  The MPS guidance is designed to provide a clear standard for C&D facilities to comply with the Department’s waste bans on disposal or transfer for disposal of the four C&D waste ban materials: wood; asphalt pavement, brick, and concrete (ABC); metal; and clean gypsum wallboard.  These materials have been banned since 2006[1] under the Department’s Solid Waste Management Facility Regulations at 310 CMR 19.017.

The Department’s RFI was intended, in part, to generate information on each individual facility’s compliance with the MPS guidance, and, for non-compliant facilities, their plans to come into compliance.  On January 29, Michael Elliott, MassDEP’s Asbestos and C&D Program Coordinator, presented the following slide compiling the C&D facilities’ responses for early CY2020 operations:

The results reveal a low level of compliance across the board.  Of the eighteen C&D processors who responded, only five met both MPS guidance performance criteria.  Two processing facilities met only the 15% PSR; three removed all four types of waste banned materials but did not meet the 15% minimum PSR; and eight other processing facilities were both below the 15% PSR and were not removing all four types of waste banned materials.  Of the eleven large C&D transfer stations who responded, only one met both performance criteria; one met the 15% PSR; and two were removing all four waste banned materials, but at less than the 15% PSR.

However, based upon Mr. Elliott’s presentation, it appears that many facilities are working towards compliance through the acquisition of new equipment and planned changes in operational practices.  C&D processing facilities will need to demonstrate that they are meeting both the 15% PSR and that they are removing all four categories of C&D waste ban materials “to the greatest extent possible.”  Like “Best Available Control Technology” or “BACT” requirements for sources of air emissions, the MPS guidance will eventually have an upward ratcheting effect on processing facility separation rates.  Once one C&D processing facility shows that separation at a rate greater than 15% can be achieved, others will need to follow suit or demonstrate why such a separation rate is not “possible.”  Large C&D transfer stations will likely comply by limiting acceptance to only C&D residuals from a compliant processing facility or by transferring all C&D to a compliant processing facility.  This too should drive recovery of waste banned materials from C&D.

It is important to note that the MPS guidance is really just another step in the evolution of the Department’s waste ban policy.  The concept of removal of waste banned items “to the greatest extent possible” is not new.  Under existing regulations, facilities are required to adopt and comply with Waste Ban Compliance Plans in accordance with 310 CMR 19.017(6).  As long as a facility remains in compliance with its approved plan, it is in compliance with the regulations.  Since at least 2014, the Department’s Guidance for Solid Waste Handling and Disposal Facilities on Compliance with MassDEP’s Waste Bans has required that a facility’s Waste Ban Compliance Plan “must demonstrate how the facility will, to the greatest extent possible, separate out from waste loads banned materials for subsequent reuse or recycling.

What is new in the MPS guidance is the bright line minimum of the 15% PSR performance criterion.  Under the previous Guidance, the Department took the position that “while MassDEP may take enforcement for any amount of waste ban materials that MassDEP observes in a shipment destined for disposal, a solid waste management facility is only required to take action in accordance with Section VIII of its approved Waste Ban Plan for unacceptable loads.”  A facility that identified such a load could remain in compliance with the waste ban regulation simply by following Section VIII of its Waste Ban Compliance Plan, which required the facility operator to communicate with the driver and the generator of the failed load and manage the failed load according to a hierarchy ranging from rejection of the load to disposal of that portion of the load that cannot be separated and reloaded, rejected, or recycled.  But nowhere was there a clear requirement to achieve a 15% minimum PSR.

For any questions about how these developments may affect your facility, contact the attorneys at Mackie Shea Durning, P.C.

[1] The ban on clean gypsum wallboard came into effect on July 1, 2011.

Major Developments in Environmental Justice in Massachusetts

The General Court, the Governor, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) are proposing, and will likely adopt, significant changes to Massachusetts’ environmental justice (EJ) policy.

Most recently, on February 10, 2021, the EOEEA proposed a MEPA Interim Protocol for Environmental Justice Outreach that enhances and expands outreach to EJ populations during environmental review of new projects. On February 7, Governor Baker returned S. 9, a monumental climate bill titled “An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy,” to the General Court, with a letter suggesting amendments to strengthen the climate bill, including its EJ provisions. This was in response to the General Court’s passage of the bill on January 28 with a veto-proof margin after Governor Baker had “pocket vetoed” the same bill for various reasons at the end of the last legislative session. Sections 55 through 60 of the climate bill amend the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, M.G.L. c. 30, §§ 61-62H (MEPA), to incorporate new provisions to promote environmental justice in the Commonwealth.[1]

Governor Baker’s changes would include “climate change” within the definition of the “environmental burdens” that would need to be studied in the MEPA process. He also suggested broadening the applicability of the new EJ requirements to all projects subject to MEPA review, not simply those that are “not insignificant.”  This change would not only require compliance with the new EJ policies in filings of Environmental Impact Reports, but in all MEPA filings, including Environmental Notification Forms. Finally, Governor Baker proposes to require the MassDEP to incorporate review of cumulative impact analysis in its permitting processes, as follows:

The department of environmental protection shall evaluate and seek public comment on the incorporation of cumulative impact analysis in the assessment and identification of certain categories of permits and approvals. Not later than 18 months after the effective date of this act, the department of environmental protection shall propose regulations to include cumulative impact analysis for defined categories of air quality permits identified through the evaluation and public comment process.

Governor Baker did not suggest changes to any of the other core EJ provisions of the bill. In summary, if passed in its current form, the new bill will significantly alter the environmental review process for many projects located in or near an EJ population and will likely require significant new project mitigation to offset historical environmental burdens suffered by such populations.[2] At the core of the bill is the definition of “environmental justice principles,” which are:

principles that support protection from environmental pollution and the ability to live in and enjoy a clean and healthy environment, regardless of race, color, income, class, handicap, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity or ancestry, religious belief or English language proficiency, which includes: (i) the meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies, including climate change policies; and (ii) the equitable distribution of energy and environmental benefits and environmental burdens.

The new bill will require an environmental impact report for any project that is likely to cause damage to the environment and that is located within a distance of one mile (or for projects that will impact air quality, five miles) of an EJ population. An EJ population means any neighborhood where: (i) the annual median household income is less than 65 per cent of the statewide annual median household income ($81,215 in 2019); (ii) minorities comprise 40 per cent or more of the population; (iii) 25 per cent or more of households lack English language proficiency; or (iv) minorities comprise 25 per cent or more of the population and the annual median household income of the municipality in which the neighborhood is located does not exceed 150 per cent of the statewide annual median household income. There is also provision for ten residents of a portion of a neighborhood to petition the Secretary for EJ population status of such portion.

Such environmental impact reports must assess “any existing unfair or inequitable environmental burden and related public health consequences impacting the environmental justice population from any prior or current private, industrial, commercial, state, or municipal operation or project that has damaged the environment” based on guidelines established by the Secretary.

If the assessment indicates an environmental justice population is subject to an existing unfair or inequitable environmental burden or related health consequence the report shall identify any: (i) environmental and public health impact from the proposed project that would likely result in a disproportionate adverse effect on such population; and (ii) potential impact or consequence from the proposed project that would increase or reduce the effects of climate change on the environmental justice population.

The new legislation would also eliminate any current exclusions from the requirement to prepare an environmental impact report for projects affecting an EJ population: “No agency shall exempt from an environmental impact report any project that is located in a neighborhood that has an environmental justice population and is reasonably likely to cause damage to the environment, as defined in section 61.” The only exception would be for emergency actions.

The bill would also add significantly to the enhanced public participation requirements contained in the current EOEEA Environmental Justice Policy (the 2017 EJ Policy) by requiring the Secretary of the EOEEA to improve access for public participation by the EJ population during the MEPA review process. Enhanced public participation requires appropriate measures such as: (i) making public notices, environmental notification forms, environmental impact reports, and other key documents related to the secretary’s review and decisions of a project review available in English and any other language spoken by a significant number of the affected environmental justice population; (ii) providing translation services at public meetings for a significant portion of an affected environmental justice population that lacks English proficiency in the project’s designated geographic area; (iii) requiring public meetings be held in accessible locations that are near public transportation; (iv) providing appropriate information about the project review procedure for the proposed project; and (v) where feasible, establishing a local repository for project review documents, notices and decisions.

The new legislation would impose on the Secretary an additional standard for approval of an environmental impact report for a project, requiring the Secretary to “consider the environmental justice principles … in making any policy or determination, or taking any action relating to a project review … to reduce the potential for unfair or inequitable effects upon an environmental justice population.” Moreover, the law would require the Secretary to impose similar requirements on all EOEEA agencies: “To further the environmental justice principles the secretary shall direct its agencies, including the departments, divisions, boards and offices under the secretary’s control and authority, to consider the environmental justice principles in making any policy, determination or taking any other action related to a project review, or in undertaking any project … that is likely to affect environmental justice populations.”

***

Environmental justice is rooted in Article 97 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which guarantees that:

The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of the people in their right to the conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water, air and other natural resources is hereby declared to be a public purpose.

The EOEEA laid the groundwork for this new legislation in 2002 when it formulated the agency-wide Environmental Justice Policy that made environmental justice “an integral consideration” to all EOEEA programs, “including but not limited to, the grant of financial resources, the promulgation, implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations, and policies, and the provision of access to both active and passive open space.” In 2014, Governor Patrick issued Executive Order No. 552, establishing a Director of Environmental Justice within the EOEEA and creating the Governor’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which the new legislation carries forward.

This new bill would mark the first time these EJ provisions have been implemented by legislative rather than executive action, a significant development that will ensure consistent implementation going forward regardless of what administration controls the executive branch. And, by amending the MEPA process, the new legislation ensures that EJ principles will be considered for all state agency actions, not just actions within the EOEEA.

***

Meanwhile, assuming that it becomes effective, the EOEEA’s proposed Interim Protocol will advance several of the climate bill’s EJ goals. (The EOEEA appears to be on a much shorter timeline for adopting the proposed Protocol than the Governor’s 180-day timeline for adopting amendments to the MEPA regulations incorporating the EJ changes.)

Under the Protocol, all new projects filing with the MEPA Office will be subject to new pre-filing requirements, starting with  identifying the location of the project relative to EJ populations on a mapping tool. If any portion of the project site is located within an EJ population (as defined in the 2017 EJ Policy), the Proponent is required to consult with the MEPA Office at least 10 days prior to filing to determine an appropriate EJ outreach strategy. According to the Protocol:

[i]n most cases, such strategy shall include, at a minimum, conducting outreach to local EJ groups and, if “English Isolation” (limited English proficiency) is indicated on the mapping tool as an identifying feature of the EJ population, offering, to the extent practicable, translation and interpretation services in languages spoken by a significant portion of the population. These language service requirements shall apply to notices, documents and community meetings that pertain to the proposed project.

The MEPA Office will consider the potential need for enhanced outreach to EJ neighborhoods during the course of MEPA review for any project that must file a mandatory environmental impact report. The Interim Protocol supplements the 2017 EJ Policy, which remains in effect for all projects to which its requirements apply.

With the climate bill back in the General Court to consider Governor Baker’s suggested amendments, and the EOEEA circulating the Interim Protocol for comment on a short time line, these or other major shifts in the Commonwealth’s approach to environmental justice will soon become a reality.

***

For any questions about how these legislative changes may affect your project, contact the attorneys at Mackie Shea Durning, P.C.

 

 

[1] A redline copy of the current MEPA statute showing changes proposed in S.9can be accessed here

[2] A table showing the principal differences between the 2017 Environmental Justice Policy of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the EJ provision in S.9 l can be accessed here.

 

Mackie Shea Durning, PC Ranked by U.S. News & World Report And Best Lawyers®

Mackie Shea Durning, PC, the Boston boutique environmental law firm, is proud to announce that it is ranked by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers® as Metropolitan Boston Tier 1 for Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation, and National Tier 2 for Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation. Tier 1 is reserved for the highest scoring firms during the annual review process. The firm will be listed in the 2021 edition of Best Law Firms.

Tier designation reflects the highest level of respect a firm can earn among other leading lawyers from the same practice areas and by clients. The firm was recognized for professional excellence, integrity, and breadth of experience by clients and peers. To be eligible, a law firm must have at least one lawyer selected by The Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes 5% of lawyers practicing in the United States. Tom Mackie and John Shea have been selected for over a decade.

Mackie Shea Durning, PC concentrates in environmental and land use law, and related litigation. The firm provides advice and representation to national, regional and Massachusetts businesses, individuals and municipalities.  www.mackieshea.com

MASSDEP PROPOSES NEW WASTE BANS ON MATTRESSES, TEXTILES, AND COMMERCIAL ORGANICS

The Department of Environmental Protection (“MassDEP”) has published draft amendments to its solid waste ban regulations at 310 CMR 19.017 that would ban the disposal of mattresses and textiles and decrease the threshold at which generators of commercial organics are banned from disposing these materials from one ton per week to one-half ton per week. The Department will hold two virtual public hearings on November 9 and November 12 and will accept written public comments on the proposed amendments through December 4, 2020. Interested parties can submit written comments by email to dep.swmp@mass.gov or via mail to John Fischer, MassDEP, One Winter Street, Boston, MA 02108.  

In September 2019, MassDEP telegraphed its intention to make these changes in its Draft 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan and during past meetings of MassDEP’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, most recently on October 1, 2020. We reported on that meeting and the proposed changes to MassDEP’s site assignment regulations at 310 CMR 16.00 in our October 6, 2020 Client Advisory.

For any questions about how these regulatory changes may affect your facility, contact the attorneys at Mackie Shea Durning, P.C.

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MASSDEP EXPLORING CHANGES TO SOLID WASTE REGULATIONS

At the most recent meeting of the Massachusetts Solid Waste Advisory Committee, held virtually on October 1, 2020, staff from the Department of Environmental Protection (“MassDEP”) unveiled potential changes to the agency’s solid waste facility site assignment regulations at 310 CMR 16.00.

The presentation was a preliminary step in the rulemaking process where MassDEP staff informs the solid waste community about regulatory changes under consideration and seeks initial input from interested stakeholders. The next committee meeting (scheduled for November 19) will focus on potential changes to the solid waste facility permitting regulations at 310 CMR 19.00. Thereafter, MassDEP expects to release draft regulations for public comment, then final revised regulations, which are expected by spring and fall 2021, respectively.

We want to highlight some of the proposed changes to the site assignment regulations that MassDEP discussed at the meeting.

New general permit for Organic Materials Consolidation. MassDEP is considering adding a new category to the list of solid waste activities in 310 CMR 16.04 that are eligible for a general permit without needing a site assignment, a solid waste facility permit, or a recycling, composting, or conversion permit (an “RCC permit”). The new category is for small-scale organic materials consolidation operations which function as an intermediate collection point between generators and processors, similar to the way a municipal transfer site works for materials recycling facilities.

Revised general permit requirements for Composting and Anaerobic Digestion facilities. MassDEP is proposing additional setback requirements for these facilities. Currently, the only setback requirement in 310 CMR 16.04(3) is at least 250 feet from any existing water supply well. MassDEP is proposing four new minimum setbacks: (1) 400 feet from any public drinking water well; (2) 250 feet from any private drinking water well; (3) 300 feet from any residence; and (4) 100 feet from any property line. MassDEP also noted that existing sites meeting certain criteria could be grandfathered and that certain materials handled at these facilities may be required to obtain an RCC permit, but the agency did not release the exact details and criteria for these revisions.

Revised Agricultural Lands siting criterion. Current regulations in 310 CMR 16.40(4) prohibit siting any solid waste facility on agricultural land rated as prime, unique, or of state and local importance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. MassDEP is proposing to revise the criterion so that it better distinguishes between soil types and land uses, including land that is actively or has recently been used for agriculture. This change would make it easier to site facilities in locations where agricultural use is not foreseeable or practical.

New siting criterion for Promotion of Waste Diversion. MassDEP is proposing a new general site suitability criterion in 310 CMR 16.40 that would consider the extent to which a proposed solid waste management facility maximizes materials diversion from disposal, either alone or in combination with other facilities. This criterion would overlap with an existing criterion for Promotion of Integrated Solid Waste Management in 310 CMR 16.40(5).

While laudable, this criterion should be applied to a facility operations permit under 310 CMR 19.00 rather than a site assignment, which considers primarily the suitability of the location of the facility and not detailed operations. Adding this criterion to site assignment evaluation could result in local boards imposing conditions on facilities to meet specific recycling or diversion standards that later become impossible to meet in a volatile and quickly-changing recycling market.

Transferability of permits. MassDEP is proposing to add a regulation specifying the terms upon which RCC and general permits may be transferred to a new facility operator.

Notice requirements for environmental justice communities. MassDEP will modify the regulation governing notice to environmental justice (EJ) communities. Currently, the regulation at 310 CMR 16.10(4) differs from the enhanced public participation thresholds under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act for EJ populations that are part of the state’s Environmental Justice Policy, resulting in potential inconsistency between the two public outreach programs. We anticipate that MassDEP will overhaul its EJ notice and participation requirements to match those in the EJ Policy.

These are just a few of the proposed revisions to the site assignment regulations, and a lot could change before MassDEP publishes its draft regulations for public comment. For any questions about how these regulatory changes may affect your facility, contact the attorneys at Mackie Shea Durning, P.C.

MASSDEP SETS MCL FOR PFAS IN DRINKING WATER

On September 24, 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration issued a press release to announce that it finalized the regulations to establish a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water.
 
Simultaneously, MassDEP issued a notice to all public water suppliers (PWS) indicating the final regulations will be published and go into effect on October 2, 2020.
 
The final version of the MCL, which will be part of the revised drinking water regulations at 310 CMR 22.00, mirrors the draft regulations that were disseminated for public comment in December 2019 and establishes a Total PFAS MCL of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. The regulations provide a new nickname for the group, the “PFAS6.”
 
The regulatory limit matches the revised Office of Research and Standards Guideline from January 24, 2020, but the new regulations also recognize that the scientific community’s understanding of the toxicological impacts from this broad class of synthetic compounds is still being developed. Section 310 CMR 22.07G(3)(e) of the final regulations directs MassDEP to “perform a review of relevant developments in the science, assessment and regulation of PFAS in drinking water for the purpose of evaluating whether to amend 310 CMR 22.07G(3) in light of any advancements in analytical or treatment technology, toxicology and/or any other relevant information” once every three years. Through this process, the PFAS concentration level could be changed and additional compounds could be added to the list of regulated contaminants in the future.
 
While the December 2019 draft MCL regulations anticipated the largest PWS serving more than 50,000 customers would begin quarterly monitoring by April 1, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hampered the agency’s ability to complete the regulatory review process. As a result, the final regulatory package was delayed and the Department set January 1, 2021 as the new monitoring start date for the largest PWS. The final regulations stagger the monitoring start date for PWS serving between 10,000 and 50,000 customers to April 1, 2021, and systems with less than 10,000 customers start monitoring on October 1, 2021.
 
In addition to unveiling the anticipated release of the final MCL regulations, the administration’s press release also announced the recipients of MassDEP’s PFAS Treatment Grants to support the design of treatment systems and reimburse costs and expenses for communities impacted by PFAS in drinking water. Ten water supply systems received grants of $200,000 from the PFAS Treatment Grant program.
 
In combination with the revisions that MassDEP made to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan in December 2019, which established reportable concentrations and cleanup standards for PFAS in soil and groundwater, this new MCL for PFAS in drinking water is another important step toward achieving a comprehensive regulatory framework for detecting and remediating PFAS in the Commonwealth. 
 
 
For more information:
 
John Shea’s newsletter article PFAS: From “Emerging Contaminants” to “Forever Chemicals” provides a survey of the regulatory history for PFAS in Massachusetts up through the draft MCL.
 
Peter Durning is a co-chair and moderator of an upcoming Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC) webinar with the leadership of the MassDEP Bureau of Water Resources on Wednesday, September 30, 2020. The speakers, including Assistant Commissioner Kathleen Baskin, and the Director of the Drinking Water Program, Yvette DePeiza, will certainly address this significant development in the drinking water regulations. Follow this link for more information and registration

Tom Mackie and John Shea Named to Best Lawyers®

Mackie Shea Durning, PC, the Boston boutique environmental law firm, is proud to announce that Thomas A. Mackie and John F. Shea have been selected for inclusion in the 27th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® (2021 edition) for environmental law and environmental litigation.  Tom and John each have been recognized for over ten years.

Best Lawyers® is the oldest and most respected publication in the legal profession.  Recognition is widely regarded by both clients and lawyers as a significant honor conferred on a lawyer by his or her peers.  Listing is based entirely on a transparent survey process evaluating professional abilities and the quality of legal services.

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RETURN TO THE PFAS ZONE

Just as Jordon Peele is bringing back the haunts and chills of the off-kilter world of the Twilight Zone for Season 2, Massachusetts finds itself being unwittingly drawn deeper into another PFAS Zone rerun.

Without going through a formal public rule making process, MassDEP is once again digging into its regulatory grab-bag to impose unprecedented requirements on industrial actors and permittees in the Commonwealth. In recent draft surface water discharge permits MassDEP issued to Shire Human Genetic Therapies and Genzyme Corporation, MassDEP unilaterally imposed new PFAS monitoring obligations. Though the draft permits acknowledge that “Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards do not include numeric criteria for PFAS,” the Department cites 314 CMR 4.05(5)(e) for the “narrative” criteria that “[a]ll surface waters shall be free from pollutants in concentrations or combinations that are toxic to humans, aquatic life or wildlife.”

While the Department’s push to use its regulatory authority to address the prevalence of PFAS in the environment is understandable, using the Office of Research Standards’ Guidelines as a means to backdoor stringent effluent standards on NPDES permittees imposes burdens on individual industrial facilities without any benefit of public notice of a changed regulatory landscape. While Massachusetts Administrative Procedures Act, M.G.L. c. 30A, does not impose a formal requirement that MassDEP perform a full cost-benefit analysis before promulgating regulation, M.G.L. c. 30A, § 5 directs agencies to state the fiscal impact of the proposed regulation on the public and private section for the first and second year as well as the first five years. Rolling out new regulatory initiatives in permit renewals side-steps this requirement to disclose the direct expense of imposing stringent PFAS monitoring criteria on industrial facilities. It also limits a permittee’s time and ability to plan for capital allocations that might be necessary to address or abate otherwise permissible discharges.

Given the prevalence of PFAS and its pre-cursors in a great range of industrial applications, the likelihood that any specific discharge may exhibit some concentration of PFAS is extremely high. That the discharge levels can be mitigated or eliminated either through changed industrial processes or at the discharge point is unknown. Advancing regulatory programs in a public and orderly fashion, not only allows industry to understand what risks and costs they may face, it also spurs innovation in remedial technologies. In contrast, MassDEP’s ad hoc approach is going to cast permittees into a thicket of monitoring requirements and eventually noncompliance for exceedances that do not have proven cost-effective treatment alternatives at this scale. While the regulatory limits for surface water discharges have not been established, the only allowance the draft permits provide for terminating the monitoring requirement is four (4) consecutive quarterly samples being measured at the nano-gram per liter sensitivity “reported as non-detected for all six PFAS compounds.” That is an infinitesimally low bar that few facilities will be able to meet. The one immediate reprieve is the lack of a public EPA multi-lab validated method for testing wastewater.

During the Trump administration, environmental concerns have been given short-shrift at the federal level and inter-governmental cooperation is at a low ebb. Earlier this summer, Massachusetts submitted a public comment letter to EPA on the proposed 2020 Multi-Sector General Permit requesting that EPA add a requirement for annual PFAS monitoring for 13 industrial sectors regulated by the MSGP, which will likely be rebuffed as the two regulatory agencies struggle to find common ground on the administration of CWA NPDES permits. While MassDEP is probably correct to hedge its bet that EPA is not going to salute its proposal to include PFAS monitoring in the MSGP, the Department should not attempt to achieve the same aim by ambushing permittees seeking routine renewals.

The last time we wrote about MassDEP leading drinking water suppliers into the PFAS Zone of demanding remedial action despite a lack of formal regulatory standards was May 2019. In the intervening period, MassDEP slow-walked its MCP and MCL rulemaking process while publically stating that its other regulatory programs were going to have to wait for the Department to assess and determine the specific regulatory thresholds that were appropriate for those activities. Rather than foster the public dialogue that comes with proper administrative procedures and deliberate rule-making, MassDEP is imposing new permit conditions by fiat.

Under the Massachusetts Clean Water Act, M.G.L. c. 21, §§ 26-53, MassDEP has broad discretion to implement water quality regulations. As the SJC noted in Friends & Fishers of Edgartown Great Pond, Inc. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 446 Mass. 830, 838 (2006), “The statutory purpose of the Act, expressed through its text, makes it clear that the department has the discretion to create regulations that will best preserve and also restore the quality of our waters.” If MassDEP has science-based regulations it wants to promulgate regarding PFAS in surface water bodies, it should harness its internal expertise and publish its regulatory framework with proper technical support and weather the scrutiny of a proper administrative procedure. The regulation will likely be upheld under the Department’s broad discretion, but the rulemaking process will promote better dialogue among MassDEP and the regulated community while helping to foster strategies for achieving compliance rather than fear of enforcement.

Though we will have to wait on a formal opportunity to issue public comments on any proposed Surface Water Quality Standards, interested parties may comment on the two draft 401 certifications and State permits issued to Shire Human Genetic Therapies and Genzyme Corporation. The deadline is Thursday, August 13, 2020.

Written comments may to be submitted by email to npdes@mass.gov, or by regular mail to:

Xiaodan Ruan
MassDEP Surface Water Discharge Program
Bureau of Water Resources
1 Winter Street – 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02108.

Mention Shire Human Genetic Therapies or Genzyme Corporation in the subject line of your email or the reference line of your letter.

If you want to discuss the implications of the development on your permits or collaborate on a comment letter, contact us at Mackie Shea Durning, PC.


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CLIENT ADVISORY: GOVERNOR BAKER ISSUES UPDATED ORDER ON STATE PERMITTING DEADLINES

On July 1, 2020, Governor Charles D. Baker issued a new Executive Order addressing certain state permitting deadlines in light of improved conditions in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The new order, COVID-19 Order No. 42, rescinds the prior state permitting order, Order No. 17, which affected a broad group of state permitting approvals. Read our prior Client Advisory for a description of the affected approvals.

Order No. 42 sets new deadlines for constructive approvals, hearings, decisions, and appeal rights that would have been effective between March 10 and July 1 but were suspended under Order No. 17, and sets a date certain for these deadlines that become effective after July 1 and going forward:

  • Constructive approvals that would have issued during the affected period will now issue on August 17, 2020, and constructive approvals that will issue after July 1 will now issue according to their usual statutory or regulatory deadline or on August 17, whichever is later.
  • Hearings that the permitting agency would have required to commence during the affected period will now commence before August 10, and hearings that would commence after July 1 will now commence according to their usual statutory or regulatory deadline or by August 10, whichever is later.
  • Decisions that the permitting agency would have been required to issue during the affected period will now be issued on or before August 10, and decisions that must issue after July 1 will now be issued according to their usual statutory or regulatory deadline or August 10, whichever is later.
  • Appeal rights that would have expired during the affected period will now expire on August 10, and any appeal rights that would expire after July 1 will now expire according to their usual statutory or regulatory deadline or by August 10, whichever is later.

Order No. 42 also pauses or “tolls” permit approvals which were valid as of March 10 and provides that these approvals will not lapse until after the state of emergency is terminated, when the number of days remaining as of March 10 until the original deadline will be tacked on to end and will establish the new deadline.

The Order, given at 5:30 p.m. on July 1, was made effective immediately and will remain in effect until it is rescinded or the COVID-19 state of emergency is terminated.

If you have a question about whether this Order covers your permit or approval, contact the attorneys at Mackie Shea Durning, PC.