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August 06, 2013
Sweeping NPDES e-reporting rule proposed

The EPA considers its new proposal to require electronic submission of reports required under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) of such consequence that the Agency is already preparing to issue a supplemental notice in response to the torrent of comments it expects in response to the initial proposal.  The EPA says it will also accept comments on the supplemental notice. 

The rulemaking is one in which industry should be fully invested.  In its proposal, the EPA makes it clear that one of the top goals of a NPDES e-reporting rule is to provide the public broad and simplified access to compliance and enforcement information about every regulated entity that reports under the NPDES permitting program.  Environmental groups as well as enforcement authorities are certain to make extensive use of the central databases of all NPDES information that the EPA is planning to make publicly available.  The proposed rule will affect hundreds of thousands of NPDES-regulated entities and all states, tribes, and territories.

Nonmajor facilities

The rule would expand the federal databases, which are now populated mainly with NPDES information about major facilities with information on nonmajor permittees such as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), mines, and sources of raw sanitary sewage overflows and stormwater discharges.  All of these are “significant contributors to water quality,” says the EPA.

Most of this information is in the possession of the states, and the proposal would require the states to share it with the EPA.  Under the proposal, information the states receive on NPDES general permits, mainly notices of intent (NOIs) to be covered by the general permit, would also be electronically relayed to the EPA.  Ideally, the new program would provide the public with “real-time, easy access” to information about local water quality as well as compliance status and enforcement activities.

Redirected resources

The EPA emphasizes that the proposal would encourage the “drastic minimization” of paperwork and interagency decision procedures and shift “precious” resources from data management activities to those more targeted to solving water quality and noncompliance issues.  “This in turn may contribute to increased compliance, improved water quality, and a level playing field for the regulated community,” states the EPA.

Facility reporting

Data types for which electronic submission would be required from NPDES facilities include: 

 

  • Self-monitoring information as reported on discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) for major and nonmajor facilities and similar self-monitoring pretreatment-related information submitted by industrial users located in cities without approved local pretreatment programs.
  • General permit reports [NOIs; notices of termination (NOT); no-exposure certifications (NECs); low erosivity waivers (LEWs)], which are required for initial permit coverage, permit coverage termination, approval for permit coverage, or permit exclusion.
  • Sewer overflow event and bypass event reports for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs)
  • Annual or more frequent pretreatment reports from facilities with approved local pretreatment programs
  • Annual reports from CAFOs
  • Annual reports from NPDES-regulated biosolids generators and handlers
  • Annual reports (or less frequent reports as required by the permit) from municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permittees

Existing federal regulations already require the submission of each of these reports; however, most are submitted on paper.

State reporting

The proposal would also require states to electronically submit information, including:

  • Facility and permit information for individually issued NPDES permits and for industrial users located in cities without approved local pretreatment programs
  • Information associated with general permits
  • Compliance determination information
  • Enforcement action information

No new information

The EPA emphasizes that the proposal would not require reporting of any information not currently reported in either paper or electronic format.  Also, the Agency says it will develop any new “national” reporting tools that facilities would use to electronically transmit information to the states.  States would not be required to develop such tools, but they would have the option to do so.  Any tool developed by a state would need to obtain the same basic nationally consistent set of NPDES information required by the EPA under the proposal. Additionally, any new state, tribe, territory, or third-party electronic reporting tools would need to meet the requirements of EPA’s cross-media electronic reporting regulation (CROMERR).

Comments on the proposal are due by October 28, 2013.  The EPA says it plans to publish the supplemental notice within 180 days after close of the public comment period. 

EPA’s proposal was published in the July 30, 2013, FR.

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