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U.S. EPA Plan 15 – Numerous Industries Remain in the ELG’s Crosshairs

Posted: February 15th, 2023

Authors: Evan M. 


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) released it prepublication of The Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15) on January 19, 2023. Plan 15 was prepared in accordance with Section 304(m) of the Clean Water Act, which requires U.S. EPA to biennially update Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs), national limits for wastewater that is discharged to surface waters and publicly owned treatment works (POTW). These limits are on an industry-by-industry basis and are based on current existing technologies. Changing limits can mean the need to implement new treatment technologies or a change in process methods and materials. In Plan 15, U.S. EPA continues to study and focus on steps to address polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) consistent with its Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15) [see ALL4’s October 2021 Article “U.S. EPA’s Game Plan for ELGs Outlined in Preliminary Plan 15” for more information on the preliminary plan].

Ongoing ELG Rulemaking

Plan 15 provides several new planned changes in ELGs in the U.S. EPA’s Regulatory Agenda as follows:

  • Supplementary additions for “Legacy” wastewater for Steam Electric Power Generating Category (40 CFR part 423). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit shot down portions of the 2020 ELG rule pertaining to “legacy” wastewater and combustion residual leachate. The U.S. EPA is initiating a revised supplementary rule that could lower ELGs and require upgrade or installation of treatment technologies such as biological treatment systems and membrane treatment systems. U.S. EPA anticipates signing a notice of proposed rulemaking by early 2023.
  • Revision of Meat and Poultry Products Category (40 CFR part 432) to address nutrient discharge. The rulemaking would address high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in wastewater discharged to POTWs and could result in reduced ELGs, or requirements to pretreat waste, for nitrogen and phosphorous. U.S. EPA intends to propose this regulation in December 2023.
  • Revision of Organic Chemicals, Plastics, and Synthetic Fibers Point Source Category: PFAS Manufacturers and Formulators (40 CFR part 414) to address PFAS. The rulemaking could result in ELGs to address PFAS through treatment such as granular activated carbon or usage of alternative materials such as coatings that contain reduced amounts of PFAS. U.S. EPA intends to propose this regulation in Spring 2024.
  • Revision of Metal Finishing (40 CFR part 433) and Electroplating (40 CFR part 413) Point Source Categories to address PFAs. The rulemaking could result in ELGs to address PFAS through treatment such as granular activated carbon or usage of alternative materials such as chemical fume suppressants that contain reduced amounts of PFAS. U.S. EPA intends to propose this regulation by the end of 2024.

Ongoing ELG Studies

The following updates on ELG studies and analyses have been made since the preliminary plan was published:

  • Following U.S. EPA’s analysis of landfill leachate, they have determined that revision of ELGs for Landfills Category (40 CFR part 445) are warranted. These revised ELGs, while not initiated yet, could add ELGs for PFAS requiring treatment or monitoring. Once EPA develops the schedule for this rulemaking, it will be published in EPA’s Regulatory Agenda.
  • U.S. EPA will continue monitoring of PFAS use and discharge from the Pulp, Paper, and Paperboard Category (40 CFR part 430) and airports. If the studies show that action is warranted, expect ELGs to be added for PFAS. For pulp, paper and carboard, this could focus on food grade packaging; for airports this could result in a reduction in the usage of aqueous film forming foams containing PFAS.
  • U.S EPA intends to initiate a POTW influent study on PFAS focusing on nationwide industrial discharge and the possible need to implement control measures at the source. U.S. EPA is planning to partner with several wastewater treatment facilities to conduct this nationwide sampling. U.S. EPA believes this data would fill a crucial data gap in the agency’s efforts to establish technology-based limits for PFAS.
  • U.S. EPA intends to start a detailed study on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Category (40 CFR part 412), to allow U.S. EPA to make an informed decision whether to revise the ELGs for CAFO. If the ELGs are to be revised, expect a decrease in ELGs on nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that could require action such as decreased application rates of surface fertilizers.
  • U.S. EPA intends to expand the study on Textile Mills Category (40 CFR part 410) to gather information on the use and treatment of PFAS and associated PFAS discharges. If the study results show that action is warranted, expect ELGs to be added for PFAS. This could require reduction in usage of wetting or antifoaming agents that contain PFAS on textile products such as clothes.
  • U.S. EPA is De-prioritizing Leather Tanning (40 CFR part 425), Paint Formulating (40 CFR part 446) and Plastics Molding and Forming (40 CFR part 463) from preliminary review. U.S. EPA does recommend state and local permitting authorities apply water based effluent limitation, meaning discharge limits may still apply.
  • Following U.S. EPA’s study of the Electrical and Electronic Components (E&EC) Category (40 CFR part 469), U.S. EPA has decided the study does not demonstrate a need to revise existing ELGs. U.S. EPA will continue monitoring E&EC for PFAS discharge data through the POTW Influent Study.

What Can I Do?

As U.S. EPA continues to administer further studies and rulemakings to the ELGs, ALL4 will continue to provide updates to regulatory developments surrounding ELGs. Stay up to date by looking out for these blogs which may affect you. If you think the changing ELGs may affect you ALL4 can help determine and implement an initial and long-term strategy to comply with the changing limits. If you would like to know more about the changing ELGs, or how ALL4 can assist you, please reach out to Evan Mia at emia@all4inc.com.


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