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EPA sheds paper in revised NPDES reporting rule

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; CP staff

With an eye to modernizing municipality and industry reporting, the EPA is set to issue a final rule requiring Clean Water Act-regulated entities plus state and federal regulators to electronically relay National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) data instead of filing paper forms. The measure will also augment an agency goal of making facility-specific inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other NPDES permit data publicly available at www.epa.gov.

When fully implemented, EPA estimates that the 46 states authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save more than $22 million annually. “Electronic reporting will give the public full transparency into water pollution sources, save millions of dollars, and lead to better water quality in American communities,” says EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles. “This rule will significantly reduce the burden and costs of paperwork, freeing up limited resources for states and other regulatory authorities to focus on the most serious water quality problems.”

Adds Environmental Council of the States Executive Director Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, “ECOS is pleased to see a rule move ahead that modernizes how businesses, states, and the federal government interface and share information in the clean water program. Our focus with EPA and the impacted regulated community will be on smooth implementation of this rule, and developing flexible approaches when needed.”

The Clean Water Act requires municipal, industrial or commercial facilities obtain a permit for discharging wastewater directly into waters of the United States. The NPDES program requires permitted facilities to monitor and report data on pollutant discharges and take other actions to ensure discharges do not affect human health or the environment. Some facilities subject to reporting requirements presently submit data in paper form to states and other regulatory authorities, where the information must be manually entered into data systems. Through the e-reporting rule, these facilities will electronically report data directly to the appropriate regulatory authority.

The shift toward electronic reporting in the NPDES program will foster more accurate, complete and efficient environmental reporting, EPA contends, while helping the agency and co-regulators better manage information, and improve effectiveness and transparency. EPA expects to publish the final rule in October, implementing it 60 days after.