Stormwater Permits, Plus Three Changes to Watch For

By Doug Ruhlin

What The Status Quo Is Today Will Not Be Tomorrow. Act And Prepare Accordingly, Or Suffer The Consequences.

Just when you think you have everything figured out, things change. That’s true in life, and also true in the world of stormwater permits. One thing is for certain, when it comes to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater permits, there is always change. Hopefully, it’s change for the better.

As we know, nearly all industrial facilities have NPDES stormwater permits in the United States. If you don’t, you are likely covered by some other form of NPDES stormwater permit (such as an Individual NPDES stormwater permit instead of the more common NPDES general stormwater discharge permit available in your state) or some type of exemption from the need for a permit (very rare). So, virtually everyone has an NPDES stormwater permit.

That’s a lot of industrial facilities here in the United States. when something changes, it changes for a lot of facilities. Within the recent past, I’ve seen three noteworthy items that I think could have a real impact on your NPDES stormwater permit situation, perhaps some good, and perhaps some bad. Let’s see what’s going on.

The Environmental Protecion Agency (EPA) has released its “NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule.”
This proposed rule was published in the Federal Register (you can still submit comments – I know I will!) on July 30, 2013. Electronic reporting – going green – what could be wrong with that? This rule, to be phased in over two years, will require all NPDES-regulated entities (that’s YOU) to report electronically things like DMRs (Discharge Monitoring Reports), NOIs (Notice of Intent applications), and other information regarding NPDES stormwater permits.

This sounds great, right? But the question is, how many states are ready for this? How many states will have the funding to implement this in a reasonable manner? How many states already have a reporting system that is old, outdated, and frankly, not worth using when one has the choice of doing paper reporting the old fashioned way? This sounds great in theory, but I can only hope that YOUR state is ready for this. I’m willing to bet most are not.

The Federal NPDES MultiSector General Permit has been proposed for renewal in the Sept. 27, 2013, Federal Register.
As you may know, the Clean Water Act gives individual states the ability to issue their own NPDES stormwater permits under the delegation program, and most states (46 out of 50) are delegated. So, this permit only applies in four states (as well as U.S. territories), so who cares, right? Wrong.

What has happened in the recent past is that many states – perhaps including yours – have adopted the Federal MSGP as their own. So as the Federal MSGP changes, so may your state stormwater permit change. You need to know if your stormwater permit is modeled after the Federal MSGP, and if so, be vigilant for future changes. You may wish to review the proposed MSGP; after all, it may be your new stormwater permit in the near future.

I’ve said before that your biggest worry in the future may not be your regulatory agency, but third-party lawsuits from environmental or citizen’s group.
I see more of them every day; in fact, they appear to almost be as common as enforcement efforts from regulatory agencies. And, they usually carry the support of public opinion.

I just saw a news item where four environmental groups jointly filed suit against two coal companies in West Virginia for NPDES stormwater permit violations. That’s news to me, when we see multiple groups joining up to pool their legal and financial resources. So that raises the stakes, and perhaps portends the future.

Remember – as I’ve said before – your biggest threat is not cash-strapped and manpower-poor state or federal regulatory agencies as much as it is well-funded environmental groups with a specific mission. One thing we can count on is change. And so it goes in the world of NPDES stormwater permitting. You need to keep this in mind – what is the status quo today will not be tomorrow. Act and prepare accordingly, or suffer the consequences. 

Doug Ruhlin is the founder of Resource Management Associates. He has been providing environmental and sustainability consulting to the construction-materials industries for more than 20 years. He can be reached at 609-693-8301 or [email protected]

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