Massachusetts Lawmakers Fight Costly Nitrogen Reduction Proposal

Proposed Massachusetts regulations to reduce nitrogen pollution on Cape Cod and in other coastal areas are stirring opposition among local governments and some state legislators.

To counter nitrogen pollution in state waters, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposes creating nitrogen-sensitive areas, which would cover watersheds draining into estuaries with a total maximum daily load for nitrogen. Towns in those areas would have to upgrade onsite systems to nitrogen-reducing systems within five years after the regulations are finalized.

Towns would have to use the best available technology, but that could include nontraditional technologies such as permeable reactive barriers filled with wood chips to remove nitrogen as water flows through. Towns may also be able to apply for watershed permits, which would extend the deadline for upgrades to 20 years with a goal of reducing nitrogen pollution by 75%.

Town officials in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, said they would build a coalition of coastal communities to oppose the proposed regulations. Local officials have criticized the DEP for a lack of transparency and omitting towns from the decision-making process.

In the meantime, two state legislators have filed a bill to stop the proposed regulations. The proposed law from state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, and state Rep. Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, would put a hold on the regulations until the state creates a plan to help homeowners afford the cost of nitrogen-reducing systems. A large portion of New Bedford is on the edge of being designated a nitrogen-sensitive area.

“[Changes] need to be done in a way that doesn’t bankrupt the average working family,” Montigny told WPRI News. “It isn’t just because this is an expense … protecting the environment is expensive, and we have to bear that burden. It was shocking and thrown at them without proper vetting from the public.”

Markey told The New Bedford Light that dozens of his constituents called and emailed him to oppose the regulations.


Democrats say they plan to repeal a 2018 state law that weakened environmental rules. Last fall they won majorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years, and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer was re-elected as governor.

The law targeted for repeal was passed in the last days of the 2018 session, under former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, and prohibits the state from passing any law stricter than its federal counterpart unless an agency director finds a “clear and convincing need.”

During a webinar on environmental priorities fDemocrats, majority floor leader Sen. Sam Singh said the law prevents the state from developing standards that may be more effective than rules available from the federal government. One priority will be developing a statewide onsite code, he said. Michigan is the only state in the country without a statewide code for onsite systems.


Food truck owners around Portland are learning about a wastewater regulation that could affect their business if it’s enforced.

Many food trucks use containers to store more than a day’s worth of wastewater from food preparation and dishwashing, but the containers violate rules from the state Department of Environmental Quality, reported KATU News.

Rule changes for food trucks were announced in early 2020, with a compliance deadline this year, but in 2020 the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the worries of food truck operators, and inspectors weren’t making in-person visits, said Leah Tucker with the Oregon Mobile Food Association.

Inspection program officials are working on a plan to allow food truck owners more time to comply with the wastewater rules. Tucker said having septage haulers pump directly from each food truck almost every day would be expensive for truck operators, and it would be almost physically impossible because of the limited number of pumpers in the Portland metro area.


A state senator leading a key subcommittee declared a focus of the coming year will be moving properties from onsite systems to municipal sewer systems.

“As we look at the nutrients that are continuing to leach into our waterways, particularly inland, we want to make sure that we’re doing all we can to support those municipalities, to make sure that those (nutrients) are not continuing to move into our water bodies and jeopardizing either our wildlife or our recreational opportunities,” said Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, at a hearing of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, which he chairs.

This year’s state budget contains $125 million for onsite system conversions and upgrades, according to news reports.


The engineer consultant for Smithville has recommended the city adopt an ordinance prohibiting septic tank effluent pump systems installed by private developers. Daniel Tribble, manager of field services for J.R. Wauford & Co. of Nashville, said the reason for his advice was a state regulation from May 2022.

The state decided that STEP tanks are integral parts of a municipal treatment system and should be owned or controlled by the municipality they’re in, Tribble said, according to WJLE News in Smithville. The same regulation also applies to STEG systems, low-pressure pumps, and other onsite components feeding wastewater into a municipal system, he said.

What this means, he said, is the city would ultimately be responsible for maintaining the pumps of every city resident who had one of these systems, and that is not desirable in the long term.


Taney County will again hold its onsite pumpout program in 2023. The program pays 100% of the cost of pumping a single-family residential tank. Residents are responsible for locating the tank and having the access hatch exposed for the pumper, said a press release from the county.

To save fuel costs, residents are also encouraged to talk to their neighbors in order to consolidate pumpout trips, said John Soutee, the county’s environmental services program manager, according to the Branson Tri-Lakes News.

The county’s sewer sales tax funds the program, which has serviced 3,925 septic tanks since 2014.


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