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May 08, 2013
Enforcement report for NPDES nonmajors

In its most recent Agency Annual Noncompliance Report (ANCR) on nonmajor facilities permitted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) makes a strong case that electronic tracking of discharge information improves identification of violations.  The latest ANCR covers 2011. 

Compliance unacceptably low

Nonmajor facilities are those with design flows of 1 million gallons per day or less.  Nonmajors include smaller POTWs, industrial dischargers, dischargers of municipal or construction stormwater, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  Under its Clean Water Action Plan, the OECA says it is attempting to improve transparency and enable public scrutiny of NPDES information and address water pollution problems through collaboration among EPA and the states and territories. 

 “EPA continues to work with states and territories to address the central problem identified in this report–namely, that noncompliance rates are too high and enforcement is too infrequent in the NPDES program,” says EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles in an introduction to the report.  “Shining a public light on violators and on government’s response to violators provides an incentive for compliance by permittees and for nationally-consistent program implementation by government agencies.”

Violations automatically found

According to the OECA, NPDES-authorized states that track discharge information in a database are three times more likely to identify serious violations than states that are not electronically sending discharge data to the EPA (39 percent to 13 percent).  States with verified data (74 percent or more of their discharge data entered into the national system) continue to identify more violations than states with nonverified data, says the OECA. 

States with verified data submit discharge information to the EPA so the national data system can automatically determine when violations occur.  The OECA notes that some states are lagging in enforcement because they do not have the resources to manually keypunch information from hard copy discharge reports.

11.4 percent enforcement for serious noncompliance

Other data reported in the ANCR include the following:

  • The ANCR universe grew from 41,929 in 2010 to 42,597 in 2011. To put this in perspective, there are roughly 450,000 NPDES permittees, of which 6,700 are major facilities with individual permits, 42,597 are ANCR permittees (smaller facilities with individual permits), and 400,000 are permittees operating under general permits.
  • There were 1,096 formal enforcement actions against ANCR permittees in 2011, down from 1,631 for 2010 and 1,156 for 2009.  Specifically,
    • Formal enforcement actions were taken against 7.1 percent of permittees with noncompliance, compared to 11 percent in 2010 and 7.7 percent in 2009.
    • Formal enforcement actions were taken against 11.4 percent of permittees with serious noncompliance, compared to 16 percent in 2010 and 12.5 percent in 2009.
  • There were $16.9 million in penalties in 2011, compared to $17.7 million in 2010 and $23.3 million in 2009.
  • 472 permittees were 1 or more years late meeting their construction schedule deadlines in 2011, compared to 384 in 2010 and 535 in 2009.  (Facility permits may contain compliance deadlines to complete construction of wastewater treatment systems.)

Consistency sought

The OECA says it is working to ensure that violations are dealt with in a consistent manner across the states and territories.  Currently, 46 states and the Virgin Islands are authorized to implement the main NPDES program.  The EPA is the permitting authority for all facilities in Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico; all facilities in the remaining territories; all facilities on tribal lands; most federal facilities; and all subprograms administered nationally (e.g., vessels). 

Click here for the latest ANCR.

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