Update — EPA issues final New Source Performance Standards for Oil and Gas with significant new compliance requirements

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On June 3, 2016, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized amendments to the Standards of Performance for Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production, Transmission and Distribution (Quad O) and a new subpart at 40 CFR 5360a et seq. (Quad Oa) for post-September 18, 2015, affected facilities. As noted in a previous CEC blog on this topic, U.S. EPA received nearly one million comments following the initial proposal. The new Quad Oa rule establishes emission standards for both methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC) at natural gas and oil well sites, production gathering and boosting stations, natural gas processing plants, and compressor stations. There are several new requirements for oil and natural gas production-related activities in these new federal rules, and it is important to understand how these rules might impact ongoing compliance activities under existing state rules and permit requirements already in effect. In this update, we focus on two of these new requirements due to their history and interrelatedness.

It is clear in reading both the proposed and final rules that U.S. EPA has expanded its understanding of oil and natural gas operations, particularly with respect to upstream E&P. Notably, the requirement for a professional engineer (PE) to evaluate and certify closed vent system design brings a new level of scrutiny borne out of a consent decree with a major oil and gas producer, and placed into practice in both the September 2015 Compliance Alert and the ongoing enforcement initiative targeting “energy extraction activities.” Not only is this new requirement intended to bring industry resources to bear on what the Agency views as a significant issue, but it also attaches professional liability to any subsequent violations attributed to closed vent system design. Further, with additional attention being focused on closed vent system design, the next obvious move on the Agency’s part was either construction practices (which are in many cases guided by industry consensus standards) or the operator’s preventative maintenance program.

From an air pollution control perspective, one focus of an upstream E&P maintenance program is to minimize or eliminate fugitive emissions from production facility equipment. As addressed by the industry during the comment period, there is an economic incentive to minimize losses of otherwise saleable products. Rather than dictate the contents of a preventative maintenance program, the Agency has instead required operators to survey for and repair fugitive emissions at well sites. While not a maintenance program per se, the new rule will require operators to engage in some routine maintenance and communication planning to ensure that fugitive leaks discovered during a survey are repaired and verified within the allotted timeframe.

Many producers operating in the Utica and Marcellus plays already had some form of fugitive emissions survey requirements in effect, as does Colorado. In other states, this will be the first time operators will have to grapple with leak detection and repair programs. This new requirement will have a disparate impact on upstream E&P operators that do not have the resources to employ full-time environmental staff or purchase the equipment needed to perform these required fugitive leak surveys in-house.

A summary of the new requirements discussed above is provided here. In the meantime, if you have questions on any aspects of the NSPS for the oil and natural gas source category, please contact the post authors: John McGreevy (jmcgreevy@cecinc.com), Kris Macoskey (kmacoskey@cecinc.com), or Ben Blasingame (bblasingame@cecinc.com).

For those interested in exploring this topic further:

Final NSPS OOOO and OOOOa rule from the Federal Register


U.S. EPA National Enforcement Initiatives


CEC’s previous blog: EPA Receives Nearly One Million Comments on Proposed New Source Performance Standards for Oil and Gas


U.S. EPA Proposes an Information Collection Request for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry

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On June 3, 2016, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed Information Collection Request (ICR) for the oil and natural gas industry in the Federal Register for notice and comment. Once the comment period ends and EPA provides responses to all significant comments, the amended proposal will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval. If approved, and U.S. EPA is issued a valid OMB control number, U.S. EPA would begin collecting information from oil and natural gas companies. The Agency envisions the collection process to begin in October 2016.

The purpose of the ICR is to collect detailed information to support regulation of existing oil and natural gas stationary sources. This is in contrast with recent regulatory efforts, which have focused (primarily) on new or modified sources. The information from the proposed ICR will be used to develop a pathway for the phase-in of new standards, rather than making those standards become effective for all affected sources at once.

Based on the proposal, the ICR will be divided into two parts. The first part will be sent to all oil and natural gas operators and requires information with respect to the company and its operations. The second part requires more detailed information with respect to specific sources and could involve a significant time investment from environmental and operations teams to complete. In addition, the second part of the ICR may require information that many organizations would consider confidential. Companies with confidentiality concerns may want to involve their legal teams in this process.

Also, keep in mind that this ICR will be issued under U.S. EPA’s authority under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act. This means that the Agency has the legal authority to require all responses to the ICR be certified by a responsible official and establish a deadline for providing a response.

For those interested in reading more about the proposed ICR, the U.S. EPA has a dedicated website here. Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. will be following the ICR approval process closely, and plans on updating this post as events unfold. In the meantime, if you have any questions with respect to the ICR or other recent federal air pollution regulatory activity, please contact John McGreevy at 888-598-6808 or jmcgreevy@cecinc.com.

TSCA Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) – 2016 Requirements

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The next submission period for the U.S. EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) requirement under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is from June 1, 2016, through September 30, 2016, and will cover the 2012 – 2015 reporting years.  The previous CDR submission was in 2012 for the 2010 and 2011 reporting years.

Manufacturers and importers of TSCA inventory-listed chemical substances that exceed either the reduced reporting threshold (2,500 lbs/yr for certain chemical-specific TSCA Actions) or the standard reporting threshold (25,000 lbs/yr for all other listed chemicals) for any calendar year from 2012 through 2015 must prepare a CDR for each chemical exceeding the respective thresholds and submit to U.S. EPA.  Note that a CDR must be submitted covering all four reporting years if a facility exceeds an applicable threshold in any year.

For chemicals that are imported to the U.S., note that only the primary importer of a chemical (generally the entity responsible for payment of import tariffs) has the TSCA CDR responsibilities.  A facility that purchases an imported chemical from the primary importer (or other down-stream entity) is not responsible for preparation of a TSCA CDR for that chemical.

The report must be filed electronically using the U.S. EPA’s Central Data Exchange (CDX) and must include production quantities for calendar years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, as well as the following information for 2015:

  • Manufacturing Related Data
    • Chemical ID,
    • Production quantity,
    • Number of workers on site who are likely to be exposed to the chemical,
    • Maximum concentration, and
    • Physical forms and relative production of each form.
  • Processing Related Data
    • Types of processes / use (up to 10),
    • Sectors,
    • Industrial function categories,
    • Percent of production,
    • Number of sites, and
    • Number of workers off site who are likely to be exposed to the chemical.
  • Consumer and Commercial Use Related Data
    • Product categories,
    • Sectors,
    • Whether the product is intended for use by children,
    • Percent of production,
    • Concentration range, and
    • Number of commercial workers who are likely to be exposed to the chemical.

For the 2016 submission, calendar year 2015 is the principal reporting year, which requires the presentation of enhanced manufacturing / processing and use data.

Whether a chemical substance is covered or not covered by TSCA can be determined by searching the U.S. EPA’s Substance Registry Services (SRS) web page.

Note that the current TSCA list includes more than 60,000 chemicals.

Chemicals applicable to CDR submission are identified as “TSCA Inv” in the chemical-specific search tables.

Common chemical substances (by industry sector) included on the TSCA inventory that may be subject to CDR requirements include:

  • Primary Metals – Steel, Slag, Baghouse Dust, Copper, Zinc, Manganese and Chromium;
  • Secondary Metals – Mill Scale, Zinc Oxide and Ferro Manganese;
  • Aggregates – Lime, Hydrated Lime, Bentonite and Kaolin;
  • Power – Coal Ash;
  • Paper – Secondary Treatment Sludge;
  • Refineries – Gasoline and Diesel Fuel;
  • Industrial Gases – Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen; and
  • Miscellaneous – Glass, Tanning Waste and Cement.

TSCA includes a number of important exemptions from CDR reporting, including:

  • Byproducts that are disposed (i.e., not released to commerce) need not be reported;
  • A chemical present as an impurity (unintentionally present in another chemical substance) is exempt from reporting;
  • Polymers have a full reporting exemption;
  • Naturally occurring chemical substances have a full reporting exemption; and
  • Certain listed forms of natural gas and natural gas liquids have a full reporting exemption.

In addition, partial exemptions are available for certain petroleum process streams and for other common chemical substances (e.g., limestone, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen).

Additional information on the TSCA CDR program is provided on the U.S. EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting web page.

If you have any questions about the 2016 TSCA Chemical Data Reporting, please contact Dennis Ritter at dritter@cecinc.com or 412-429-2324.

EPA Finalizes Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELGs)

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The first Federal limits on various metals and other pollutants discharged by steam electric power plants were finalized on September 30, 2015, and published in the Federal Register on November 3, 2015. Limits for arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium, and cadmium are established in the new rules. EPA notes that steam electric power plant sources make up approximately 30 percent of the toxic and bio-accumulative pollutants discharged into surface waters of the United States by all industrial categories under the Clean Water Act. The Final ELGs set Daily Maximum and 30-Day Average Effluent Limits for discharges from existing and new sources for Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) (see 1. below), Gasification (see 2. below), Combustion Residual Leachate (see 3. below), and Chemical Metal Cleaning Wastewaters (see 4. below). Also established are zero discharge requirements for Flue Gas Mercury Control (FGMC), Fly Ash Transport, and Bottom Ash Transport Waters.

The electric power industry has made great strides to reduce air pollutant emissions under Clean Air Act programs, yet many of these pollutants may be transferred to the wastewater as plants employ technologies to reduce air pollution. When metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium accumulate in fish or contaminate drinking water, they can potentially cause adverse effects in people who consume the fish or water.

This final rule is the first to ensure that generating stations in the steam electric industry employ technologies designed to reduce discharges of trace metals and other potentially harmful pollutants discharged in the plants’ wastewater. Sources of drinking-water have been identified with increased levels of carcinogenic disinfection by-products (brominated DBPs, in particular trihalomethanes (THMs)) from bromide in the plants’ wastewater. This was tracked from drinking-water utilities’ violations of the THM Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Nitrogen discharged by steam electric power plants can also impact drinking-water sources by contributing to algal blooms in reservoirs and lakes that are used as drinking-water sources. Mercury and selenium can bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife, and also accumulate in the sediments of lakes and reservoirs.

The Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines and Standards that EPA promulgated and revised in 1974, 1977, and 1982 did not reflect process and technology advances that have occurred in the last 30-plus years (e.g., coal gasification) and the widespread implementation of air pollution controls (e.g., FGD and FGMC). The technological advances have altered waste streams and created new types of wastewater at many steam electric power plants, particularly coal-fired generating stations. Many stations, none-the-less, still treat their wastewater using only surface impoundments, which may be ineffective at controlling discharges of toxic pollutants and nutrients.

1. FGD Wastewater
FGD systems are used to remove sulfur dioxide from the flue gas so that it is not emitted into the air. Dry FGD systems spray sorbent slurry into a reactor vessel so that the droplets dry as they contact the hot flue gas. Although dry FGD scrubbers use water in their operation, the water in most systems evaporates, and the dry FGD scrubbers generally do not discharge wastewater. Wet FGD systems contact the sorbent slurry with flue gas in a reactor vessel, producing a wastewater stream.

Best Available Technology (BAT) required for control of pollutants discharged in FGD wastewater is a chemical precipitation system that employs hydroxide precipitation, sulfide precipitation (organo-sulfide), and iron co-precipitation, followed by an anoxic/anaerobic fixed-film biological treatment system designed to remove heavy metals, selenium, and nitrates. At some stations, this wastewater is managed in surface impoundments, constructed wetlands, or through practices achieving zero discharge. Other technologies have been evaluated or are being developed to treat FGD wastewater, including iron cementation, zero-valent iron (ZVI) cementation, reverse osmosis, absorption or adsorption media, ion exchange, and electrocoagulation.

2. Gasification Wastewater
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants use a carbon-based feedstock (e.g., coal or petroleum coke) and subject it to high temperature and pressure to produce a synthetic gas (syngas), which is used as the fuel for a combined cycle generating unit. After the syngas is produced, it undergoes cleaning prior to combustion. The wastewater generated by these cleaning processes, along with any condensate generated in flash tanks, slag handling water, or wastewater generated from the production of sulfuric acid, is referred to as “grey water” or “sour water,” and is generally treated prior to reuse or discharge.

3. Combustion Residual Leachate from Landfills and Surface Impoundments
Combustion residuals generally collected by or generated from air pollution control technologies comprise a variety of wastes from the combustion process. These combustion residuals can be managed at the station in on-site landfills or surface impoundments. Leachate includes liquid, including suspended or dissolved constituents, that has percolated through or drained from waste or other materials placed in a landfill, or that passes through the containment structure (e.g., bottom, dikes, berms) of a surface impoundment. Most landfills have a system to collect the leachate. In a lined landfill, the combustion residual leachate collected by the liner is typically transported to an impoundment (e.g., collection pond). Some generating stations discharge the effluent from these impoundments containing combustion residual leachate directly to receiving waters, while other stations first send the impoundment effluent to another impoundment handling the ash transport water or other treatment system (e.g., constructed wetlands) prior to discharge.

Surface impoundments are the most widely used systems to treat combustion residual leachate. Some generating stations collect the combustion residual leachate from impoundments and recycle it back to the impoundment from which it was collected. Some generating stations use collected leachate as water for moisture conditioning of dry fly ash prior to disposal, or for dust control around dry unloading areas and landfills.

4. Chemical Metal Cleaning Wastewaters
Chemical metal cleaning wastewaters are generated from cleaning metal process equipment and are most typically treated in surface impoundments and chemical precipitation systems. Other types of treatment and disposal include constructed wetlands, filtration, reverse osmosis, clarification, oil/water separation, brine concentration, recycling, evaporation, off-site treatment, hazardous waste disposal, third party disposal, landfilling after mixing with fly ash, and deep well injection.

Closing Comments
Many power generating stations that are currently using impoundments or basic treatment may find that additional measures are required to achieve the new ELG limits. Table 1 provides a summary of effluent limits for discharges from existing sources, while Table 2 provides a summary of effluent limits for discharges from new sources. Table 3 provides a summary of additional effluent limits that will apply for discharges from new sources that produce greater than 25 megawatts (MW). Power generating stations will likely have issues associated with the treatment of selenium and boron in their FGD blowdown. These compounds can be difficult to treat and are not always readily removed using conventional treatment techniques that are currently employed by power generators. As such, additional treatment processes may be required to satisfactorily remove these compounds. CEC has experience in the treatment and removal of these compounds and can assist with evaluation of power station water balances, wastewater sampling and testing, and wastewater treatment plant design.

If you have any questions about the November 2015 Steam Electric Power ELGs and their potential impacts on your station, please contact Ron Ruocco, P.E., at rruocco@cecinc.com or 855-859-9932.


Table 1: Summary of Effluent Limits for Discharges from Existing Sources
(Daily Maximum/30-Day Average)

Steam Electric Plant Process Arsenic
as N (mg/L)
FGD Wastewater 11 / 8 788 / 356 23 / 12 17.0 / 4.4 100 / 30 20 / 15
Gasification Wastewater 4 / – 1.8 / 1.3 453 / 227 100 / 30 38 / 22 20 / 15
Combustion Residual Leachate 100 / 30 20 / 15

Existing Sources: The final rule establishes Best Available Technology (BAT)-based effluent limits in existing FGD wastewater, existing gasification wastewater, and existing combustion residual leachate discharges. These limits are equivalent to Best Practicable Technology (BPT).


Table 2: Summary of Effluent Limits for Discharges from New Sources
(Daily Maximum/30-Day Average)

Steam Electric Plant Process Arsenic
FGD Wastewater 4 / – 39 / 24 5 / – 100 / 30 50 / 24 20 / 15
Gasification Wastewater 4 / – 1.8 / 1.3 453 / 227 100 / 30 38 / 22 20 / 15
Combustion Residual Leachate 11 / 8 788 / 356 100 / 30 20 / 15
Low Volume Waste Sources 100 / 30 20 / 15
Chemical Metal Cleaning Wastes 1 / 1 1 / 1 100 / 30 20 / 15

New Sources: For new FGD wastewater, new gasification wastewater, new combustion residual leachate discharges, new low-volume waste sources, and new chemical metal cleaning waste sources, the final rule imposes effluent limitations based on New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).


Table 3: Summary of Additional Effluent Limits for Discharges from New Sources
(Generating Stations Producing Greater Than 25 MW)
(Daily Maximum/30-Day Average)

Pollutant or Pollutant Property Once Through Cooling Cooling Tower Blowdown Coal Pile Runoff
Free available chlorine mg/L 0.20 / 0.20 0.50 / 0.20
Total Suspended Solids mg/L 50 / 50
The 126 priority pollutants (Appendix A) contained in chemicals maintenance, except: mg/L (1)
   –   Chromium, total mg/L 0.2 / 0.2
   –   Zinc, total mg/L 1.0 / 1.0

(1) Denotes No Detectable Amount

2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone

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In accordance with a federal court order, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) signed a final rule on October 1, 2015, revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground level ozone, lowering the primary and secondary standards to 70 ppb, a decrease of 5 ppb from the 2008 ozone NAAQS. The USEPA believes that this standard should be attainable for most areas based on the implementation of other large regulations recently promulgated, e.g., Tier 3 vehicle standards, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) and the Clean Power Plan. The rule was published in the Federal Register on October 26, 2015, and becomes effective on December 28, 2015.

Based on clinical studies and analyses of the effect of ozone exposure, the USEPA concluded a primary ozone NAAQS of 70 ppb is sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Likewise, the USEPA concluded that a secondary ozone NAAQS of 70 ppb is sufficient to protect public welfare, e.g., protection of the forests in Class I areas. The averaging time and form of the standards will remain the same. Compliance is demonstrated when the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour ozone concentration per year, averaged over three years, is less than or equal to 70 ppb. The USEPA deemed the 70 ppb standards to be “requisite to protect public health and welfare,” meaning that the level is neither more nor less stringent than necessary.

The implementation timeline for the 2015 ozone NAAQS is as follows:

  • October 2016 – States recommend non-attainment designations to USEPA, based on monitoring data from the previous three-year period (2013-2015).
  • October 2017 – USEPA makes final non-attainment designations based on monitoring data from 2014-2016.
  • 2020-2021 – State Implementation Plans (SIPs) due (date dependent on severity of non-attainment designation).
  • 2020-2037 – States must comply with the standard (date dependent on severity of non-attainment designation).

As presented above, states are required to submit recommended non-attainment designations to USEPA by October 2016, based on monitoring data from the previous three-year period. USEPA plans to issue guidance documents in early 2016 to facilitate the designation process.

Several states in the western U.S. have expressed concern regarding the impact of background ozone concentration on ambient air quality and counties’ abilities to demonstrate compliance with the more stringent ozone standards. The USEPA believes that background ozone will not prevent areas from attaining the 70 ppb ozone standards; however, to address this concern, USEPA plans to update the Exceptional Events Rule, which allows states to exclude “uncontrollable pollution,” such as increased ozone levels due to wildfires. Additionally, the USEPA plans to issue a white paper on background ozone and hold a stakeholder workshop. The USEPA will also work with states to address interstate transport of ozone and ozone precursors, especially in areas affected by high background concentrations of ozone due to long-range transport of ozone from other countries and wildfires.

The final regulation also provides a transition mechanism for PSD permitting projects currently underway via a grandfathering provision. Projects subject to this provision must demonstrate compliance with the 75 ppb ozone NAAQS standards from 2008 but will not be required to demonstrate compliance with the 2015 standards. This will allow these projects to proceed without the significant delay associated with preparation of a new compliance demonstration. In order to qualify for the provision, the facility must have achieved one of the following milestones:

  • The permitting agency formally determined the application to be complete as of October 1, 2015; or
  • The public notice for a draft permit or preliminary determination will have been published prior to December 28, 2015, the date the revised ozone standards become effective.

For 33 states and regions, the USEPA has also increased the length of the ozone monitoring season to address findings that ozone levels can be elevated earlier in the spring and later in the fall than the current monitoring time frame. This extension ranges from the addition of one month for 22 states and the District of Columbia to an additional seven months for Utah. The revised standard also requires that ozone monitors located at multi-pollutant NCore monitoring sites operate year-round. These changes will become effective January 1, 2017.

Additional changes to the NAAQS include updating the Air Quality Index (AQI), streamlining and modernizing the Photochemical Assessment Monitoring Stations (PAMS) network, and updating the Federal Reference Method for ozone to include an additional method for measuring ozone in outdoor air.

Many state agencies will host stakeholder meetings over the next year as they begin to identify potential ozone non-attainment areas. Check your state’s website to follow their activities.

If you have any questions about the 2015 ozone NAAQS and their implications to your facility, please contact either Amy Ritts (aritts@cecinc.com; 888-598-6808). More information on the ozone standards is available at http://www3.epa.gov/airquality/ozonepollution/actions.html.

Proposed Waters of U.S. Rule and Implications for Site Planning and Stormwater Management

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On April 3, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) submitted a proposed rulemaking for final interagency review to revise the definition of “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) in the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The revisions will affect the circumstances in which permits are needed to disturb and discharge fill material into streams, wetlands, or other waters. The EPA and the Corps jointly released the proposed rule in April 2014 and have since received almost one million public comments. The proposed WOTUS rule expands the types of waters that will be considered jurisdictional and subject to CWA permitting requirements through the use of various opinions from past Supreme Court decisions regarding the connections of drainageways and wetlands to downstream waters, as well as by proposing new WOTUS categories and definitions.

The proposed rule will allow the EPA and the Corps to assert CWA jurisdiction on a categorical and regional basis in cases where jurisdiction is currently questionable (e.g., ephemeral or discontinuous streams, isolated wetlands, and ditches), instead of requiring a case-by-case Significant Nexus Determination (SND) process. This SND process is a result of the 2006 Rapanos v. U.S. Supreme Court (Rapanos) case, which enables EPA and Corps staff to use the SND logic (or just the threat of a formal Jurisdictional Determination) to lay a de facto claim to any tributary streams or adjacent wetlands, including the uppermost extent of dry ephemeral channels and wetlands near, but lacking direct connections to, WOTUS. In most cases, when jurisdiction is in question for a project, applicants relent to the EPA and Corps opinions before the case is subjected to a SND, because the SND process can be time-consuming, cumbersome, and expensive. Therefore in practice, the new rule may have less impact on streams than on ditches, artificial drainageways, and isolated wetlands.

EPA claims that the rule would improve clarity and certainty regarding CWA jurisdiction, and stated in press releases that “confusion has led some people not to apply for permits where in fact they must” and that the rule would extend CWA jurisdiction to an additional 20 million acres of wetlands and more than half of our nation’s streams. However, the inclusion of drainageways and “other waters” into the rule on the basis of any hydrological or ecological connections, not just “significant” connections, would depart drastically from the Rapanos plurality decision that only channels with “relatively permanent” flow should be jurisdictional under the CWA.

The Ditch Issue and CWA Exemptions

Once a ditch or other area is under federal CWA jurisdiction, modifications or disturbance (including routine maintenance) may be subject to CWA Section 404 permitting requirements.  Unless the rule is revised and clarified, even constructed drainageways, swales, and similar surface flow conveyances would be considered jurisdictional unless it can be demonstrated that they are not connected to a WOTUS, and that they do not meet the definition of wetlands.  This is problematic considering that in many non-arid regions, the recently revised methodology for wetland determination makes it relatively easy to classify even very small, seasonally saturated areas with opportunistic hydrophytic vegetation as wetlands.

The rule appears to lay the burden-of-proof on the applicant to prove a feature is not jurisdictional.  Ditches are exempt from regulation under the rule and past Corps regulatory guidance letters if they: 1) are excavated in uplands, drain only uplands, and have less than perennial flow; and 2) do not contribute to flow, either directly or indirectly, to a WOTUS.  Since most ditches are constructed to collect and transport runoff to a discharge point at a stream or wetland, only ditches that are wholly disconnected from a watershed  and remain dry during most of the year are likely to qualify for these exemptions.

The original CWA also provided conditional exemptions for other activities, detailed at the links below, which are preserved with the new rule.  However, use of these exemptions can be contentious in practice and subject to case-by-case evaluation that differs based on the regulatory climate within each Corps District and EPA Region. For more information, see:

For example, many Corps reviewers have been apt to reject an exemption for “maintenance of drainage ditches” if vegetation and sediment had accumulated in a constructed channel or basin, on the rationale that this infrastructure was abandoned because of lack of routine maintenance, or if the ditch is in the vicinity of protected wildlife species habitat.  The Corps Regulatory Guidance Letter 07-02 discusses ditch maintenance exemption in more detail.

Stormwater and Green Infrastructure Jurisdictional Claims

Stormwater treatment systems and other constructed water treatment systems were traditionally not claimed by the Corps because these systems are designed and maintained to satisfy Section 402 of the CWA (regarding point and non-point discharges and NDPES permitting), thus considered impractical to be regulated as jurisdiction WOTUS under Section 404.

Recently, however, some Corps Districts have already begun claiming stormwater channels and basins on the basis that they are either not regularly maintained or convey flow to/from a wetland or stream, and are thus de facto jurisdictional tributaries.  This is a slippery slope; if the mere connection to a stream or wetland is sufficient to claim jurisdiction, rather than considerations of function and form, then most stormwater facilities could be subject to CWA Section 404 permitting requirements.

Additionally, green infrastructure (bioretention basins, rain gardens, vegetated swales, constructed wetlands, etc.) have been widely promoted by EPA and others as an effective solution for stormwater control, water quality, and other issues.  Despite appeals by many stakeholders, the EPA and the Corps have declined so far to provide an explicit exemption for green infrastructure—which may have a chilling effect on its use.

What You Can Do to Reduce Exposure to the CWA Proposed Rule

Maintain your drainage ditches…or else!  Maintain artificial drainageways by removing accumulated sediment and colonizing vegetation, and controlling fugitive runoff or seepage to prevent the area from meeting the definition of wetlands.

Retain documentation (e.g. design plans, permits, and maintenance records) for water conveyance systems, especially green infrastructure.  This documentation may be proof to refute jurisdictional claims in the future and prove that features were excavated in, and drain only, uplands.

Where possible, design drainage controls so that they are “off-line” from the local watershed, and avoid controls that channelize or detain surface flows (e.g., curb/gutter elimination, infiltration, bioretention), to reduce exposure to CWA jurisdictional claims.

Remember, even though you design a system or have a permit, the EPA and the Corps may reevaluate in the future and determine that conditions have changed and your infrastructure is now subject to regulation.

If you have questions on if/how the new WOTUS rule may affect your facility, contact Jonathan Farrell at 412-977-1456 or jfarrell@cecinc.com.   If you require assistance inspecting and maintaining your stormwater system, contact Rick Celender at (412) 249-2309 or rcelender@cecinc.com.  The EPA has established a website dedicated to public outreach at http://www2.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule.  We recommend more reading at http://www.naco.org/legislation/Pages/WOUS.aspx.

Proposed Revisions to National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone

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On November 25, 2014 the USEPA (EPA) proposed to lower the primary and secondary national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone (the main component of smog).  The proposed revision was published in the Federal Register on December 17, 2014, and comments were accepted through March 17, 2015.  The final rule will be issued by October 1, 2015.

Primary NAAQS establish pollutant concentrations intended to protect public health with an “adequate margin of safety,” as required by the Clean Air Act.  Secondary NAAQS are set to protect the public welfare (such as trees, plants and ecosystems) from “any known or anticipated adverse effects.”  In accordance with the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review the NAAQS every 5 years to determine whether the standards remain “requisite to protect public health” (i.e., neither more or less stringent than necessary).  The primary and secondary ozone NAAQS were last set in 2008, when the 75 ppb, 8-hour standard became effective.

The EPA proposed that the current primary ozone NAAQS of 75 ppb is no longer sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety and should be lowered into the range of 65 to 70 ppb.  The averaging time and form of the standard will remain the same, with compliance demonstrated when the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour ozone concentration per year, averaged over 3 years, is less than or equal to the level of the standard.  The EPA accepted comments on setting the standard as low as 60 ppb, as well as retaining the current standard of 75 ppb.  Likewise, the EPA proposed that the current secondary ozone NAAQS is no longer sufficient to protect public welfare and should be revised to between 13 and 17 ppm-hrs, as defined in terms of seasonal index W126, which is equivalent to between 65 to 70 ppb.  The EPA accepted comments on defining the level of protection as low as 7 to 13 ppm-hrs, as well as retaining the existing standard.

Based on the three-year average of monitoring data collected in 2011 through 2013, 358 counties (shown on the map below) would violate the NAAQS if lowered to 70 ppb and 200 additional counties (558 counties, total) would violate the NAAQS if lowered to 65 ppb.  (Please note:  This includes calendar year 2012 data which reflects increased ozone formation due to above-average temperatures and below-average humidity in central and eastern parts of the country.  The final attainment designations will be based on monitoring data from the three-year period of 2014 through 2016, and it is possible that some of the counties that are projected to be in violation of the new standard will actually be in attainment.)

Source: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/ozonepollution/pdfs/20141126-ozonemaps.pdf

If a county is designated as nonattainment, new major sources or existing major sources planning to make a major modification in that area will become subject to nonattainment new source review (NNSR) considerations for ozone.  There are many challenges associated with NNSR permitting including evaluation and implementation of lowest available emission rate (LAER).  With LAER, the highest level of control is required without regard to cost.  In addition, facilities are required to achieve a net reduction of the nonattainment pollutant emissions by obtaining emission offsets.  Offsets can be expensive due to high demand and limited quantity.  Facilities which have preconstruction permit applications well under the review process will be grandfathered at the time the final standard is issued.

The EPA has also proposed extending the monitoring season in 33 states to address findings that ozone levels can be elevated earlier in the spring and later in the fall than the current monitoring season time frame.  This extension ranges from the addition of one month for some states to requiring year-round monitoring for others.  The proposed effective date for the extended monitoring season is January 1, 2017.

The current timeline for EPA issuing a final regulation either leaving the NAAQS at the current standard or lowering the value, as well as all associated activities, is as follows:

  • October 2015 – EPA finalizes standard
  • October 2016 – States recommend non-attainment designations to EPA
  • October 2017 – EPA makes final non-attainment designations
  • 2020-2021 – State Implementation Plans (SIPs) due (date dependent on severity of non-attainment designation
  • 2020-2037 – States must comply with the standard (date dependent on severity of non-attainment designation)

On March 17, 2015, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives introduced bills to block the proposed changes to the ozone NAAQS based largely on economic concerns.  The bills, presented by senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Thune (R-SD) and Representatives Pete Olson (R-TX) and Robert E. Latta (R-OH)  would prevent the EPA from lowering the standard until at least 85% of U.S. counties that are currently not in attainment with the 2008 standard attain the 75 ppb ground-level ozone concentration level.  It is unclear what effect these bills may have, considering the Supreme Court’s 2001 affirmation in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc. that the Clean Air Act “unambiguously bars cost considerations from the NAAQS setting process.”  However the bills help to focus attention on the importance of economic costs when the EPA and states work to implement new air quality standards.  CEC will follow how the proposed bills will impact EPA’s deadline to finalize the rule as well as any impacts on the final standards set in the final rule.

If you have any questions about the proposed changes to the ground-level ozone NAAQS and their implications to your facility, please contact either Amy Ritts (aritts@cecinc.com; 888-598-6808). More information on the proposed standards is available at http://www.epa.gov/glo/actions.html.