LAEDC Protests Huge Fee Hikes by Statewater Resources Control Board

Sept. 17, 2002
State Water Resources Board to Consider Adoption of Emergency Regulation Thursday

State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) of California will consider adopting "Emergency Regulations" that would in some cases double fee schedules for waste discharge requirements on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002, 9:00 a.m., Coastal Hearing Room, Joe Serna Jr./Cal/EPA Building, 1001 "I" Street, Sacramento. A public workshop has been scheduled on this issue for the day before, September 18, 2002. Environmental groups and city managers are seeing red over the proposal and the fact that the agenda says, "no additional comment will be accepted at the Board meeting."

According to Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), "The LAEDC created the BEACON Stormwater Program so we could consolidate government compliance issues into a region approach and begin solving our water quality problems together. These fee increases won't even go to clean up the stormwater problem. I sure hope we're not seeing a trend of increasing state fees that impact business but without any new results or benefits that help the environment. City governments are already struggling financially, and these fees will be quickly passed on to businesses. Not the thing to do in this type of economy."

"If these emergency rate hikes become effective the State will only encourage more lawsuits rather than working with the cities toward clean water solutions," Lee Harrington, LAEDC President and CEO, added. "With only a seven-day notice by the State Board it's hard to know the facts. But it's my understanding that some overall county fees will go from $10,000 to $400,000 after these fee increases go in place. That's a mind boggling increase."

The current fees are assessed on a sliding scale and range from $200 to the statutory cap of $10,000. The scale is based on the size and volume of discharge, threat to water quality and complexity of the discharge. The current fee for industrial and construction stormwater dischargers is $500 for dischargers enrolled under a general permit and $250 if the discharger is also covered by an urban area-wide permit issued to a local municipality. The municipal permit holders pay an annual fee of $5,000 or $10,000, based on population. Under the emergency adoption fees could double to as high as $20,000.

Fees are collected annually from all people issued either State waste discharge requirements or a federal NPDES permit (with the exception of dairies, which pay a one-time $2,000 fee). Approximately 5,200 dischargers currently are assessed annual fees for these programs. Fees also are collected annually from all persons required to have an NPDES stormwater discharge permit. The SWRCB and the nine Regional Boards currently regulate more than 13,000 dischargers of stormwater associated with industrial and construction activities through two general stormwater permits. Municipalities that serve populations of 100,000 or more also are required to have a stormwater permit.

To meet the challenges presented by these permits the LAEDC has developed the BEACON Balancing Economic and Clean Ocean Needs (BEACON) Program(TM).

"I do know that the Regional Water Quality Board, the State Water Quality Board and the Environmental Protection Agency have a great deal of flexibility with respect to the manner in which the requirements of these permits are implemented," said BEACON Program spokesman Leon G. Billings, the former chief of staff to U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie. Billings co-authored the Clean Water Act 30 years ago.

"The state, the cities and counties have an opportunity to develop implementation programs and negotiate their acceptance with the Regional Board. The LAEDC's BEACON Program provides a cost effective mechanism by which those negotiations can take place collectively for the participating co-permitees," Billings said. "Increased fees should be directed to water quality objectives and not to other purposes."

"The LAEDC's BEACON Program fosters public/private partnerships to promote economic health in Southern California. The program is designed to fully comply with the Clean Water Act in the letter and spirit of the law," Billings added. "It is a measure of the legislative skill of the late Senator Edmund S. Muskie that his two legislative crown jewels, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, not only have been maintained intact against often furious assault but have been enormously successful in accomplishing the objectives that were set out 30 years ago."

"In addition to annual fees, the SWRCB charges a one-time fee for certification under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act," said Senior Vice President Wally Baker of LAEDC. "It was our belief that stormwater runoff, which we equated could be best accommodated under the section 208 planning provisions of that Act. Section 208 gave metropolitan planning organizations like Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) the authority to develop comprehensive plans to deal with sources of water pollution which were either primarily composed of runoff or did not apply to industrial and municipal waste treatment plant effluent. Additionally, BEACON will effectively help establish a fair and equitable fee schedule across the board through a collaborative effort of large and small cities."

Source: Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.