Comments on New River Pollution ‘Variance’ Rule

Last week we submitted technical comments to the Montana Board of Environmental Review opposing the Dept. of Environmental Quality’s draft new ‘variance’ rule allegedly implementing Senate Bill 325 of the 2015 Legislative Session.


Click here to read our technical comments opposing DEQ’s draft SB 325 Variance Rule.

We oppose the new draft Variance Rule because it does not conform to the federal Clean Water Act or its implementing regulations, and because it fundamentally misconstrues – and threatens to undermine – the longstanding system of water pollution controls in the state of Montana to the detriment of local waterways and the many user groups who depend on healthy, clean flows.

Whether it is the Rule’s attempt to authorize polluters to do less to control their pollution discharges to waterways, attempt to reclassify “man-made” pollution as meriting special treatment and leniency at law, or the chilling effect the rule would have on long-standing river pollution clean-up efforts, Waterkeeper opposes these types of attempts to weaken our pollution control laws in favor of alleged economic hardship or tax-payer burdens.

The truth is that strong, science-based water pollution controls play a measurable, proven role in both protecting clean waterways and restoring polluted waterways! Tt is far better economics to keep high-quality water clean, than it is to degrade a waterway for short-term gain at the cost of long-term clean-up. Likewise, it is terrible, short sighted policy to undermine long-term investments in existing water pollution clean-up plans – Montana should be in the business of incentivizing market and technological solutions to pollution problems, not cutting polluters breaks and allowing dischargers to do less to protect local waterways.

Next Steps

The draft SB 325 variance rule now goes back to the Board of Environmental Review along with all public comments. The Board, which has the legal responsibility to implement mandates of both the Montana Water Quality Act and the federal Clean Water Act, must review the draft rule, analyze comments criticizing the rule, and make an initial determination whether the rule may be implemented as new regulation, or must go back to the Dept. of Environmental Quality for revision. As stated in our comment letter, we believe that the draft rule conflicts with federal and state law and must therefore be remanded to the agency for revisions.

Waterkeeper will continue to bird-dog this rulemaking to ensure the Board of Environmental Review lawfully conducts a review and protects Montana communities and waterways from bad pollution exemption rules.