Overview of the Department of Environmental Protection

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Department of Environmental Protection.

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The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was established by Section 7 of Chapter 21A of the Massachusetts General Laws as a subdivision of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). DEP is the guarantor of the people’s right, under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution, to “clean air and water” and “the natural scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment.” According to its program plan and performance partnership agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for federal fiscal years 2016 through 2019,

[DEP’s] mission is to protect and enhance the Commonwealth’s natural resources—air, water, land; to provide for the health, safety, welfare and enjoyment of the people and the protection of their property; and to advance environmental protection and sustainable economic development.

Also, DEP’s website states,

[DEP] ensures clean air, land and water. We oversee the safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes. We ensure the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills. And we work to preserve the state’s wetlands and coastal resources.

EPA administers federal laws and regulations similar to those DEP administers, but it delegates much of its enforcement authority in Massachusetts to DEP.

DEP operates from a central office in Boston and four regional offices in Springfield, Worcester, Wilmington, and Lakeville, as well as a state laboratory in Lawrence. As of the end of our audit period, DEP had approximately 700 full-time-equivalent employees working with local communities to protect the environment. During fiscal years 2018 and 2019, DEP received state appropriations totaling $51,799,826 and $57,539,138, respectively.

Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act

The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) was enacted in 1989 under Chapter 21I of the General Laws as a way to reduce the use of toxics in an effort to improve public health and the environment through a more economical use of these materials. TURA requires certain facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use listed toxics1 in their operations, at levels that exceed specific thresholds, to file annual toxics use reports detailing their management of toxics and to undergo a planning process to identify opportunities for toxics use reduction (TUR). According to EEA’s website, “The Administrative Council [on TUR] is the governing body of the TURA program and is responsible for program policy oversight.” The chairperson of this council is the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. DEP administers Massachusetts’s TURA program, whose duties include collecting chemical use information and other data submitted by toxics users, providing compliance guidance to toxics users, certifying TUR planners,2 and taking enforcement actions for noncompliance.

Toxics users that are subject to TURA are required to prepare a toxics use report for DEP every year, pay the annual toxics use fee3 calculated based on toxics use, develop an initial TUR plan the next even-numbered year after filing the report, update the TUR plan every two years thereafter, and submit a summary of each document to DEP. Alternatively, users may prepare a resource conservation plan or implement an environmental management system after they complete the initial TUR plan and two TUR plan updates. Failure to file annual reports, develop plans, or pay toxics use fees can result in DEP enforcement action, including fines.

Watershed Planning Program—Quality Assurance Program Plan

DEP’s Division of Watershed Management maintains the Watershed Planning Program (WPP), which conducts surface water4 quality monitoring. DEP prepares a five-year quality assurance program plan (QAPP) for WPP; the plan is approved by EPA. According to DEP’s website,

The QAPP documents the elements of WPP’s monitoring program, including goals and objectives, sampling designs, data quality objectives, sampling logistics, equipment used, training provided, quality control sampling, documentation, data validation and management, corrective actions, and data reporting. In addition to this overarching QAPP, individual Sampling and Analysis Plans (SAPs) are prepared annually for each monitoring project within the five-year approval period. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) documents are also maintained for all field and laboratory operations and are revised as needed to reflect any changes in methodologies.

WPP’s QAPP for 2015–2019 documents DEP’s plan for testing Massachusetts lakes and ponds based on random sampling, referred to as a probabilistic sampling design. Under the plan, each year from 2015 through 2019, a different geographic region of the state would be tested. DEP would design its sampling process, acquire samples to be tested, have them tested, validate the test results through documented quality control procedures, and assess the results to determine whether waters were impaired5 or were usable for their designated purposes.

Two of WPP’s 2015–2019 QAPP program goals were related to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and our audit objective. The first goal is as follows:

  • Collect chemical, physical and biological data to assess the degree to which designated uses (such as primary and secondary contact recreation, fish consumption, aquatic life use and aesthetics) are being met in waters of the Commonwealth (CWA 305[b] purposes).

The second related program goal, which discusses total maximum daily load (TMDL) implementation plans,6 is as follows:

  • To support the analysis and development of TMDL implementation plans to reduce pollutant loads that contribute to water quality violations and impairments (CWA 303[d] purposes).

Additional program goals include the following, according to the 2015–2019 QAPP:

  • Screen fish in selected waterbodies for fish tissue contaminants . . . to provide for public health risk assessment.
  • Locate pollution sources and work to promote and facilitate timely correction. . . .
  • Collect water quality data to enable the determination of water quality trends in parameter concentrations and/or loads.
  • Develop new or revised water quality standards. . . .
  • Measure the effectiveness of water quality management projects or programs.

1.     Listed toxics are substances that have been designated as toxic in certain federal laws (Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) and have not been delisted by the Massachusetts Administrative Council on Toxics Use Reduction.

2.     TUR planners certify that each plan submitted by a toxics user meets the requirements of Section 50.40 of Title 310 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations and identifies and evaluates options for TUR. Planners are certified by DEP to ensure competence through sufficient education and work experience. They must also complete a TUR planning program; pass a uniform certification examination; and, to maintain certification, earn continuing education credits related to TUR activities.

3.     This fee is calculated using the number of employees and number of listed chemicals manufactured, processed, or used during the filing year.

4.     Surface waters are aboveground water bodies, such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands, as opposed to groundwater, which is underground.

5.     Impaired waters are waters that do not meet water quality standards for their classifications and intended uses.

6.     DEP’s website states, “A TMDL is a calculation of the highest amount of a pollutant that a water body can take in and still meet standards for healthy systems. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to identify water bodies that do not meet these standards and develop TMDLs for them.” Implementation plans are prepared by DEP to track, monitor, and evaluate processes intended to meet TMDL targets.

Date published: June 15, 2020

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