Executive Summary

Improving the EPA's Permit Program for Industrial Stormwater

What you need to know about the recently published National Academy of Sciences Report

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commissioned the National Academy of Science to help them shape the next Multi-Sector General Permit for Industrial Stormwater and their research committee recently published its findings in a new report.

Mapistry has prepared an Executive Summary to brief manufacturing companies on the most pertinent details of this report to help them best prepare for a new future in industrial stormwater permitting.

Intro

Recently, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a groundbreaking report that paves the way for sweeping regulatory changes to the EPA’s Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) for Industrial Stormwater. The publishing of this report strongly signals what industrial manufacturers should expect from the EPA’s revision and release of the 2020 MSGP. The report also provides a comprehensive look into the not-too-distant future for industrial environmental programs.

Mapistry is publishing this Executive Summary to detail the key take-aways from the report to help companies prepare for the upcoming changes to both the scope and scale of stormwater regulations and the potential pitfalls and associated risks.

This summary will cover:

  • Why the report is important
  • Background on the report
  • Summary of recommendations being made
  • The “eReporting” age for stormwater and its impacts


Impact

Why is the National Academies stormwater report important?


Background

Why was this report commissioned?


Recommendations

Key recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Report

 

Conclusion

The “eReporting” age for stormwater and risk impacts

Impact

Why is the National Academy of Sciences report important?

With the EPA’s formation of a research committee dedicated to improving the stormwater permit and in light of this committee’s newly published report recommending sweeping stormwater regulatory changes, it is clear that we’re entering a new, science-driven era for stormwater regulation.

The “one-size-fits-all” approach to permit requirements previously embraced is now being replaced with new protocols that capitalize on new technologies and new research breakthroughs. This not only sets a higher bar for state and federal regulations but, more importantly, it’s shifting us towards a more “risk-based permitting” approach where regulations more appropriately match the level of risk a facility poses to the environment. In other words, the risk of pollution from a facility correlates to the severity of the permit requirements they are required to meet.

Background

Why was this report commissioned?

In 2015, a coalition of environmental groups filed a petition against the United States EPA stating, “[t]here are serious deficiencies in EPA’s industrial stormwater permit that, unless corrected, will allow polluters to continue to discharge unreasonably high levels of toxins, metals, and other pollutants into our waterways—and these deficiencies are illegal”.

In November of 2017, following the legal settlement agreement with the Waterkeeper Alliance, the EPA enlisted researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to form a research committee dedicated to helping draft the underlying science for the upcoming permit. And specifically, this research committee was instructed to commission a report to highlight weak points in the existing MSGP program and suggest methods to strengthen them.

The settlement agreement with the Waterkeeper Alliance also outlined the findings to inform the next revision of the MSGP. The study included a number of meetings, both internally and public forums to gain comments for various stakeholders, including industry representatives and tradegroups.

The settlement agreement outlined specific outages of the current permit, including:

  1. The lack of numeric effluent limits
  2. The commission of monitoring certain pollutants that are commonly discharged by industrial facilities
  3. The current permit grants polluters automatic coverage in 30 days whether or not the permit or Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) has been reviewed
  4. The permit also prevents the  public from being able to comment or seek more information regarding a particular facility or application

To combat these outages, the research committee from the National Academy of Sciences was presented with the mandate to suggest improvements to the current MSGP and benchmark monitoring, to evaluate the feasibility of numeric retention standards (i.e. stormsize), and to identify the highest priority facilities for additional monitoring and the development of numeric effluent limits.

Recommendations

Summary of key recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Report

The National Academy of Sciences report provided the EPA with numerous recommendations, but we’ve summarized the five recommendations that have the biggest impacts on the future of stormwater regulation that manufacturers need to know about. These recommendations should help you better understand, prepare, and prevent future risks surrounding your stormwater compliance programs.

Updating the MSGP industrial sector classifications

The EPA should update the MSGP industrial sector classifications so that requirements for monitoring extend to non-industrial facilities with activities similar to those currently covered under the MSGP.

What does this mean?

  • Because SIC codes are not ideal for characterizing industrial activities, the National Academy recommends facilities that also pose a high risk for stormwater pollution be included in the permit.
  • Some of the facilities types highlighted include timber lots, fuel storage and onsite fueling stations, vehicle maintenance, and other outdoor handling of materials.

Industry-wide monitoring

The EPA should require industry-wide monitoring under the MSGP for pH, total suspended solids (TSS) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) as basic indicators of the effectiveness of stormwater control measures.

What does this mean?

  • The National Academy believes benchmarks should be based on the latest toxicity criteria to adequately protect aquatic ecosystems from repeated stormwater exposures.
  • The report also suggested the EPA revisit iron, arsenic and selenium as benchmarks for the lack of substantial and relevant aquatic life criteria.
  • Additionally, express all benchmarks in the units from which they are derived to increase clarity.

Strengthening sampling, monitoring, and analysis

The EPA should update and strengthen industrial stormwater monitoring, sampling and analysis protocols and training to improve the quality of monitoring data.

What does this mean?

  • The Academy suggests the EPA implement a certificate training program to ensure data collected is representative and accurate.
  • Additionally, the EPA should consider the recommendation of using sensors and other monitoring technology to increase accuracy and reduce monitoring costs for industry.

Quarterly grab sampling

Quarterly grab sampling over 1 year is inadequate.

What does this mean?

  • The Academy does not think annual or quarterly sampling is sufficient.
  • The current MSGP allows less frequent sampling if benchmarks are met and the Academy disagrees due to the episodic nature of stormwater.

Risk-based approach to monitoring

To improve stormwater data quality while balancing the burden of monitoring, EPA should expand its tiered approach to monitoring within the MSGP, based on facility risk, complexity and past performance.

What does this mean?

  • The committee proposed these categories:
    • Inspection only
    • Industry-wide monitoring only
    • Benchmark monitoring and enhanced monitoring
  • The Academy believes a tiered monitoring framework could improve data quality while reducing the burden to lower risk facilities.

Conclusion

The “eReporting” age for stormwater and its impacts

And finally, and perhaps one of the most important precedents set in the National Academies report is the drive towards eReporting and making stormwater discharge data accessible online as a minimum requirement. It states:

“As electronic reporting of industrial stormwater monitoring data becomes fully implemented and integrated for all states, large amounts of valuable industrial stormwater data will be available for analysis, evaluation, and identifying areas for improvement.”

The National Academies is calling upon a more data-driven and transparent framework for regulating stormwater in the near future. This feedback is consistent with what we saw from environmental groups in the Waterkeeper Alliance lawsuit where it was suggested that the EPA “draw[s] on hundreds of thousands of data points collected by polluters across the country, in every line of business, to set clear, achievable pollution limits for industrial stormwater.”

The National Academy of Sciences report and the Waterkeeper Alliance point towards eReporting as a critical way to set more realistic permit requirements, but they also pave the way for two critical consequences that could have very serious financial and legal ramifications for manufacturers. We’ll go over these in the following sections:

1) Easier compliance violation detection

In a recent poll of industrial manufacturers currently regulated under stormwater permits, Mapistry found that 86% of manufactuers said that mitigating legal risk was the top priority for their stormwater programs. Their concerns about legal risk are certainly warranted because the threat of legal action surrounding stormwater compliance is on the rise. In fact, between 2015-2018, there has been a 260% increase in citizen-initiated lawsuits. And potential penalties are also crippling, typically averaging around $3M per claim but they can climb up to as much as $12M.

As the stormwater permit changes and eReporting becomes a mandatory requirement across all states, manufacturing facilities must consider the additional risks of having their stormwater data be accessible via public databases, allowing anyone to search for site-specific information. These eReporting formats are making it faster and easier for regulatory agencies and citizen activist groups to monitor and detect environmental violations. As a result, the risk of becoming the target of a non-compliance violation and even a lawsuit is higher than ever.

To prepare for this new reality, manufacturers are starting to prioritize putting better controls in place to ensure compliance requirements are being met and problems are responded to immediately. But, unfortunately, with the enormous breadth and depth of scientific requirements surrounding stormwater regulations, this is not easily achieved without better systems and technology in place…which leads us to the next point.

2) Program gaps and compliance deficiencies

As data and scientific advancements continue to change today’s stormwater regulatory landscape, manufacturing leaders are under enormous pressure to achieve stronger environmental compliance capabilities. But unfortunately, keeping up with the pace of change is only half the battle. The reality is that manufacturers are not equipped with the tools, domain knowledge and regulatory expertise that’s required to effectively manage their stormwater programs while mitigating legal risk. Because of this, process gaps and deficiencies in their stormwater compliance programs are on the rise, which is only being compounded by the fact that the threat of legal action for compliance violations is higher than ever (as we explored in the previous section).

To solve this challenge, Mapistry is partnering with leading industrial manufacturers across the country to put in place the enterprise-grade technology foundation they need to adequately manage the health of their stormwater compliance programs while defending against legal risk. Our technology not only offers built-in subject matter expertise around stormwater compliance, but it provides a centralized dashboard to manage and track the compliance lifecycle from start to finish. The solution is built to keep facilities in compliance with the latest environmental compliance regulations, legal threats, and technical requirements — while also helping them cut back on staff time and resources needed to manage stormwater compliance.

Evaluate the effectiveness and risk posture of your stormwater program

Is your business fit for the evolving stormwater compliance landscape?

As the race continues to advance stormwater compliance with the adoption of eReporting and stricter scientific standards, the significant business risks this poses to manufacturers are only going to grow more urgent. Learn how Mapistry can help safeguard you from these challenges by setting up some time with our experts.