What the Cluck?! Wastewater Discharge Permits for Air Pollutants?!

Posted on February 1, 2013 by Patricia Finn Braddock

Rose Acre Farms, Inc. et al. vs. NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, et al., decided January 4, 2013

On January 4, 2013, a North Carolina court held that an egg production facility could be required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit solely on the basis that feathers and dust carrying ammonia nitrogen and fecal coliform, expelled from henhouses by ventilation fans, can be “pollutants” from a point source for which an NPDES permit is required if those pollutants reach waters of the State.  This is a case of first impression in which a court held that the impact of air emissions on water bodies could be regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

North Carolina egg producer Rose Acre Farms (RAF) appealed a decision by the NC Department of Water Quality (DWQ) that an NPDES Permit renewal required stringent new BMPs on the grounds that: 1) the DWQ had no authority to require an NPDES permit for a “no discharge” facility; and 2) even if DWQ had authority to require an NPDES permit, the DWQ had no authority to impose new BMPs because: a) the feathers, dust and litter expelled into the air from ventilation fans are not “pollutants” as defined in 33 U.S.C. §1362(6); and b) even if ammonia nitrogen, total inorganic nitrogen, total phosphorus and fecal coliform associated with the feathers, dust and litter are “pollutants” that enter waters of the State, that activity would be exempt under the agricultural storm water discharge exemption in 33 U.S.C. §1362(14).

The Court held that ammonia nitrogen and fecal coliform carried by feathers and dust expelled by ventilation fans in the henhouses are “biological materials”, a term included in the definition of a “pollutant” in the CWA.  In addition, the Court relied on EPA guidance letters to determine that feathers, dust and litter expelled from a henhouse by ventilation fans are discharges from a point source that could reach waters of the State.  Finally, the Court held that the agricultural storm water discharge exemption in 33 U.S.C. §1362(14) applies only to land application in accordance with site specific nutrient management practices and does not apply to pollutants from feathers, manure, litter or dust that are expelled from the RAF henhouses but are not entrained in irrigation water.

If courts in other jurisdictions follow suit, other sources of air emissions with the potential to reach a receiving water, such as power plants and industrial facilities, may be required to address the impacts of their emissions on those receiving waters in future NPDES permits, independent of required air permits.

Infrastructure – To Repair or Ignore?

Posted on March 16, 2012 by Joseph Manko

With significant funding in 2010 under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (“ARRA”), a major financial stimulus was afforded the water and wastewater industry to “go green.”  Although many large urban areas decided to address their combined sewer overflow (“CSO”) problems by replacing their existing sewage systems with separate systems, many others opted to construct “green infrastructure” to detain and/or retain the surcharge from rainstorms that could overwhelm operation of wastewater treatment plants and result in the discharge of sewage and other pollutants from CSOs.  In Pennsylvania, a $30 million loan was extended to the City of Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This loan enabled the City, which had signed a Consent Order and Agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, to implement a green infrastructure program over a 20 year period. 

With the economic recession and major changes in the composition (and philosophies) of the members in both Houses of Congress from the 2010 elections, not only did the prospect of future similar economic stimuli programs go to the “back of the bus”, but the desire of these new members of Congress to reduce spending put increased pressure on the federal government to reduce the funding of any infrastructure improvements. 

A good example of this can be seen in the President’s proposed budget issued on February 13, calling for a proposed EPA budget of $8.3 billion. This reflects a decrease of 1.2 percent below the fiscal 2012 enacted level.  More pertinent to the water and wastewater industry, the proposed cuts included a 19.8 percent reduction (from $1.47 billion to $1.18 billion) in EPA’s budget for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, and a 7.4% reduction (from $918 million to $850 million) in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.  Similar budget cuts occurred in most, if not all, of the states’ share of infrastructure funding.  With dire predictions associated with the Nation’s failure to maintain all of its infrastructure, one may recall the plot in “Atlas Shrugged” where the nation’s infrastructure failed and those who were its leaders “disappeared”.  Recall the query “Who is John Galt?”

As a result, we environmental attorneys find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand, we are trying to adapt our infrastructure to climate change, foster the use of cleaner and more efficient energy in operating treatment plants, and conserve water. On the other hand, we face the reality of having to represent an industry with an infrastructure that is largely old and outdated and appears, at least in some cases, ready to fail. These failures will no doubt result in more and more violations of the Clean Water Act (and state water laws) in the future. 

Although funding cutbacks are not yet “carved in stone”, it would be wise for us to keep an eye on the budget debates. They may affect our practices in the near term and our environment as well.  

PENNSYLVANIA CLEAN WATER AND BROWNFIELDS INVESTMENT OF STIMULUS FUNDS

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Joseph Manko

Among the priorities under the $787.5 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is repairing, rebuilding, and constructing the nation’s water infrastructure. Approximately $6 billion will augment the EPA’s clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, of which approximately $221 million will be disbursed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVest). The governing board of PennVest is appointed by Governor Rendell, and I have been serving as its chair for the past six years.

 

PennVest administers the approximately $300 million annual allotment of Clean Water and Drinking Water funds previously supplied by EPA on a matching basis with Pennsylvania. These funds will now be augmented by the $212 million in stimulus funds. The Clean Water Fund addresses waste water infrastructure. The fund also addresses brownfields (with its protection of water quality) and storm water, whereas the Drinking Water Fund is strictly for water supply and distribution. At least 50 percent of the funding must be in the form of grants.

 

With the current emphasis on sustainability, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction and the need for more stringent control over stormwater run-off, the allocation of stimulus funds by PennVest will focus on innovative green technology, including particularly, controlling stormwater and remediating brownfields (at least 20 percent of the stimulus funding must be used for “green infrastructure”.)

 

Although the final disbursement of the economic stimulus funding will be affected by various regulations, the awarding of grants and loans will likely be on the same timetable as in the past with an emphasis on “shovel ready” projects. Funding agreements must be entered into and contracts for the full amount signed within a year.  The ultimate goal is to immediately increase the amount of jobs needed to construct the infrastructural repair, rebuilding and construction. 

PENNSYLVANIA CLEAN WATER AND BROWNFIELDS INVESTMENT OF STIMULUS FUNDS

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Joseph Manko

Among the priorities under the $787.5 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is repairing, rebuilding, and constructing the nation’s water infrastructure. Approximately $6 billion will augment the EPA’s clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, of which approximately $221 million will be disbursed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVest). The governing board of PennVest is appointed by Governor Rendell, and I have been serving as its chair for the past six years.

 

PennVest administers the approximately $300 million annual allotment of Clean Water and Drinking Water funds previously supplied by EPA on a matching basis with Pennsylvania. These funds will now be augmented by the $212 million in stimulus funds. The Clean Water Fund addresses waste water infrastructure. The fund also addresses brownfields (with its protection of water quality) and storm water, whereas the Drinking Water Fund is strictly for water supply and distribution. At least 50 percent of the funding must be in the form of grants.

 

With the current emphasis on sustainability, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction and the need for more stringent control over stormwater run-off, the allocation of stimulus funds by PennVest will focus on innovative green technology, including particularly, controlling stormwater and remediating brownfields (at least 20 percent of the stimulus funding must be used for “green infrastructure”.)

 

Although the final disbursement of the economic stimulus funding will be affected by various regulations, the awarding of grants and loans will likely be on the same timetable as in the past with an emphasis on “shovel ready” projects. Funding agreements must be entered into and contracts for the full amount signed within a year.  The ultimate goal is to immediately increase the amount of jobs needed to construct the infrastructural repair, rebuilding and construction.