Intent of this Exchange Page and Discussion Forum
This web page is one of several ways the EPA is inviting the public to participate in an ongoing rulemaking. In the Federal government, regulatory decisions are made through the rulemaking process. Please use the features of this web page to let the EPA know what you think about the topics listed for discussion.
Focus of this Rule
EPA is in the early stages of developing a proposed rule on electronic reporting for various aspects of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Rulemaking is a formal decision making process governed by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires the government to fully document its decisions and, when appropriate, to take public comments into consideration.
The focus of this rule is to establish new reporting requirements for facilities, and other parties such as the states, that currently are required to report certain data under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Each of these parties are already collecting and submitting substantial amounts of data, on a number of program areas, to the states or to EPA. The proposed rulemaking, is expected to require that some portion of that reporting submitted electronically, rather than on paper, set the necessary standards for the electronic reporting.
Through the rulemaking process, EPA will examine a number of alternatives, ask for and receive comments and advice from many parties, including the public, and eventually develop a proposal outlining which types of reporting would be required to be done electronically, and how electronic reporting would be done. The proposal will be published in the Federal Register, and the public will have an opportunity to comment at that time.
EPA will then consider the comments received, revise the rule as necessary, and issue a final rule. The final rule is expected to be issued in 2012, and include a process for phased implementation over several years.
Who is Affected?
The proposed rule is expected to affect both permitted facilities and states, tribes and territories that administer the NPDES program. EPA believes that most reporting facilities would benefit from electronic reporting. The rulemaking would not create any new reporting requirements. Rather, the rule would simply require certain existing reporting to be done electronically. Moreover, it is possible that electronic reporting would actually reduce the reporting burden on the reporting facilities.
States would also be directly affected, and mostly to their benefit. Electronic reporting would dramatically reduce the need for the states to process paper submissions. This is expected to save them time and money, and could free-up resources for compliance assurance and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The states may incur some conversion costs in the move to electronic reporting, but EPA will likely offer several potential types of assistance. The Facilities that discharge pollutants into the water under an NPDES permit are expected to be affected the most, but states, municipalities, tribes, and territories also may be affected.
As the various aspects of the rule are implemented, they are expected to make it possible for EPA and the states to improve management of the Clean Water Act programs, which then would lead to cleaner water for everyone.
Background Regarding the NPDES Program
The 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (known as the Clean Water Act or CWA) prohibits the discharge of pollutants to waters of the United States unless that discharge is done in compliance with the requirements of the Act. The primary method for discharges to be consistent with the Act is for the discharges to be authorized by a permit. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program is the primary permitting program under the Act (the Act also created a second significant permitting program, the section 404 permitting program, for the discharge of dredged and fill material). Through the NPDES permitting program, EPA, or authorized states, set limits and conditions on the discharge of pollutants to water.
Forty-six states and the Virgin Islands have been authorized by EPA to implement and enforce the main NPDES program within their own boundaries. EPA implements and enforces the main NPDES program in the other four states, in most US territories, and on tribal lands. EPA also administers several NPDES subprograms (e.g., biosolids or pretreatment) in other states, permits Federal facilities in many states, maintains oversight responsibilities over these 46 NPDES-authorized states, has the authority to inspect permittees throughout the nation and take enforcement actions, and manages the national NPDES program.
The proposed rule is expected to have both direct and indirect benefits. How large those benefits will be is dependant upon which of the alternatives being considered are actually included in the final rule. The direct benefits are expected to be primarily cost savings for the reporting facilities and states. By adopting modern electronic reporting technologies the reporting facilities – many of whom are still reporting on paper forms – will spend less time preparing their reports, and because of the built in accuracy checks, the reports are expected to be more accurate, resulting in the facility spending less time revising and resubmitting forms due to errors.
States are expected to save money by not having to process large volumes of paper forms. Currently, when states receive paper submissions they need to check them for errors, return them to the senders if there are errors, and when they are accurate, they have to be entered into the state’s data system. All of that takes time, which costs the states money, and means it can take months before the reported data is actually available for use. Electronic reporting by facilities would dramatically reduce the processing costs of the states, freeing up resources that could be used to work with permittees, including following-up on permit violations.
Electronic reporting is expected to result indirectly in cleaner water for the public and the environment. With electronic reporting the data would be placed directly into data systems that can scan for violations which means the states and EPA can take corrective actions sooner, and which would lead to fewer pollutants being discharged into the water.
NPDES Reporting Rule Events
As work proceeds EPA also intends to determine whether additional meetings and consultations are warranted in order to comply with various statutes and Executive Orders. The statutes and Executive Orders direct federal agencies, including EPA, to coordinate with organizations representing states, counties, and municipalities, and consult, as required, with tribes and small businesses and small governmental jurisdictions.