Clearer Water? – EPA Proposes Electronic Reporting and Transparency for NPDES Facility Information
Posted: August 13th, 2013Author: All4 Staff
On July 30, 2013, U.S. EPA continued its move toward more transparency of environmental information by proposing the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Electronic Reporting Rule. The proposed rule would modify 40 CFR Parts 122 (EPA Administered Permit Programs: the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System), 123 (State Program Requirements), 403 (General Pretreatment Regulations for Existing and New Sources of Pollution), 501 (State Sludge Management Program Regulations), and 503 (Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge) and would create 40 CFR Part 127 (NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule). The proposed rule would require electronic reporting for NPDES reports that are currently paper-based. By switching to an electronic-based system as opposed to a paper-based system, U.S. EPA expects benefits by bringing about a shift in regulatory resources from data management activities to activities more in line with solving water quality and noncompliance issues.
As proposed, the NPDES Reporting Rule would not increase the amount of information required from NPDES regulated facilities under the current regulations. The proposed NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule would require that current NPDES program written reports, including Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs), Notices of Intent, general permit waivers, certifications, and notices of termination of coverage, be submitted directly to U.S. EPA electronically through the National Environmental Information Exchange Network. Authorized NPDES permitting authorities (e.g., States, Tribes and Territories) would also continue to receive this information, and could have the opportunity to be designated to receive the information first and pass it along to U.S. EPA. Additionally, NPDES permitting authorities would also be required to report to U.S. EPA information they currently maintain on NPDES program facilities, including the following information:
- NPDES permit applications
- Permit information (outfalls, limits, etc.)
- Compliance determination information
- Enforcement response information
So why does U.S. EPA now want all of this information electronically? In the proposal, U.S. EPA states its intent to make all this data available to the public to promote transparency and accountability. U.S. EPA says it would also use the data to compare performance across authorized programs. Other benefits that U.S. EPA identifies include relief for permitting authorities from processing paper reports and annual reporting to U.S. EPA, and reduced reporting burdens on permitted facilities from the efficiencies of electronic reporting.
The proposed implementation schedule for the NPDES Reporting Rule would be a phased approach following final promulgation of the rule with milestones including:
- U.S. EPA sponsored webinars, training, and technical assistance to States and other NPDES permitting authorities upon final rule publication.
- States and other NPDES permitting authorities would work with U.S. EPA to designate who will receive the electronic NPDES information from facilities (initial recipients) and publish those designations.
- States and other NPDES permitting authorities would implement the Federal electronic reporting rule one (1) year after the promulgation date.
- States and other NPDES permitting authorities not identified in Phase I in the initial group of recipients would report their NPDES information electronically two (2) years after the effective date of the rule.
U.S. EPA will accept comments on the current proposal through October 28, 2013. The proposed NPDES Reporting Rule has a large scope and would have broad applicability. For that reason, U.S. EPA has already committed to publishing a supplemental notice 180 days after the closure of the public comment period if comments are received that prompt significant changes to the proposed rule. This is a clear sign that a proposed rule such as this can take quite a while to be finalized. But however long it takes, the end result for NPDES permitted facilities will be more opportunity for engagement with the public and regulatory agencies regarding environmental performance.