March 23, 2009

Clean Water Advocates and Industrial Sector Battle Over Connecticut’s Industrial Stormwater Permit

Posted on March 23, 2009 by Gregory Sharp

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) has proposed to revise and renew its General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activity. The renewal has prompted environmental groups to seek enhanced notice and public participation requirements and has provoked the regulated community to seek an overhaul of the structure of the General Permit.

The previous General Permit was adopted in 2002, modified in 2003, and expired on September 30, 2007. It was unilaterally extended on October 1, 2007 and October 1, 2008 through March 31, 2008 without change by DEP to provide ongoing coverage to approximately 1,500 registrants. Companies in Connecticut with industrial SIC codes are required to register if they have a discharge of stormwater through a conveyance to waters of the United States, and are not otherwise exempt.

Connecticut’s Industrial Stormwater scheme historically was a one-size-fits-all general permit. It allowed eligible companies to authorize their stormwater discharges by filing a registration form, similar to the Notice of Intent in the federal program. The filing of the registration, along with a fee, conferred coverage under the permit, subject to its terms, unless the Commissioner requested an individual permit application.

The 2002 permit required the preparation and certification by a P.E. or C.H.H.M. of a stormwater pollution prevention plan (“SWPPP”), adherence to generic best management practices (“BMPs”), annual monitoring of stormwater discharges from qualifying storm events for an expansive list of chemical and physical parameters, including whole effluent toxicity, and a set of Target Values for the parameters based on the 80th percentile of the monitoring data collected in previous years.

Historically, the permit had not been particularly controversial, had been relatively easy for DEP to administer, and enabled the agency to develop a significant stormwater data base which it could sort by SIC Code and use to prioritize enforcement. Significant enforcement cases over the past 10 years focused on non-stormwater discharges, such as those from vehicle washing, which commingled with stormwater, or in some cases, discharged directly through stormwater systems.

During the summer of 2008, DEP announced that it would be revising the permit. It sought to update its 80th percentile Target Values to reflect the monitoring data acquired since the prior permit was adopted in 2002, and it proposed Action Levels at the 95th percentile of prior monitoring results which would require follow-up action by registrants to investigate the source of the exceedances and modify their BMPs and SWPPPs.

Two events conspired to radically change DEP’s approach to the General Permit renewal. On September 27, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) adopted its Multi-Sector General Permit for Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activity (73 FR 56372), and on October 8, 2008, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the Connecticut Soundkeeper, Inc. intervened in the DEP proceedings convened to renew the permit, and several industrial stakeholder organizations quickly joined the fray.

The environmental groups sought significant changes to the permit scheme arising from federal appellate decisions interpreting the Clean Water Act to require the opportunity for public notice and comment not only on the General Permit and its terms, but also on the individual discharger’s Notice of Intent and its proposed pollution control measures.

The leading case relied upon by the environmental intervenors is Environmental Defense Center, Inc. et al. vs. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency et al., 344 F. 3d 832 (9th Cir., 2003). In that case, environmental groups challenged the EPA’s Phase II regulations for municipal storm and sanitary sewers (“MS4s). The regulations authorized the use of general permits and required the use of BMPs identified in an NOI filed by the MS4 in seeking authorization under the general permit. Consistent with its prior practice, EPA did not require NOIs to be subject to public notice or public hearings.

The environmental petitioners challenged the rule, because it did not require EPA to review the content of the MS4 dischargers’ Notices of Intent and the substance of the stormwater controls adopted by the dischargers, and it did not contain requirements for public participation in the NPDES permitting process.

The Ninth Circuit remanded the rule on both counts. As to the review of the discharger’s individually proposed pollution control measures, the court, relying on Section 402 (p) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), held “stormwater management programs that are designed by regulated parties must, in every instance, be subject to meaningful review by an appropriate regulating entity to ensure that each such program reduces the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable.” Id. at 856.

As to the public participation aspects, the court held that, because it was the NOIs and accompanying documents, not the general permit itself, that contain the substantive information on pollution control measures to reduce discharges to the maximum extent practicable, if the Rule does not make NOIs available to the public or provide for public hearings on NOIs, the Rule violates the intent of the Act, as embodied in 33 U.S.C. § 1342 (a)(1) and (j).

Using this precedent the environmental groups in Connecticut challenged the DEP’s past practice of not publishing notice of registrations for the Industrial Stormwater Permit and not providing for public review of the site-specific SWPPPs mandated by the General Permit. In the most recent draft of the General Permit, the agency has agreed to publish notice on its website of registrations received each month, and provide a means by which the public can review the SWPPPs.

On the industry side, trade associations advocated for a Connecticut General Permit that would emulate the federal Multi-Sector permit. The advantage of the federal approach to industry was that EPA designated 29 industrial sectors and tailored its generic control measures and monitoring requirements to each sector. Although the EPA permit requires quarterly monitoring for sector specific “Benchmark” pollutants, the number of parameters measured is far less than Connecticut’s prior permit and does not include toxicity. The Benchmark concept incorporated in the permit requires those dischargers for which the average of four quarters of monitoring data exceed the Benchmark concentration to investigate the reasons for the exceedance and modify their control measures and SWPPP. For certain sectors, EPA also adopted enforceable effluent limitations.

On February 4, 2009, DEP issued a new proposed draft which adopts ten sectors modeled on the federal permit with semi-annual monitoring. The previously proposed “Action Levels” have become “Benchmarks” to track the federal language. DEP’s proposal retains the broad spectrum of parameters to be included in the monitoring program, including toxicity, but makes some sector specific adjustments. The toxicity monitoring requirement carries with it no Benchmark. The draft also adds annual monitoring for parameters for which receiving waters have been designated impaired or subject to Total Maximum Daily Load restrictions.

The Benchmark values for Copper, Lead and Zinc are based on Connecticut’s Water Quality Standards. The Benchmarks for remaining parameters (pH, O&G, COD, TSS, TPh, TKN, and NO3), are based on the 50th percentile of the previously acquired monitoring data. Industry has objected to the Benchmarks set at the 50th percentile as arbitrary (not water-quality based), overly stringent, and impossible for many sites to achieve.

The DEP is still taking comments, and expects to go to notice on a new proposal in April. In the meantime, the DEP has published notice that it intends to extend the 2002 General Permit once again until September 30, 2010, but it will require re-registration and a pro-rated fee of $300 for the October 1, 2007 to September 10, 2010 time period.

Tags: permitting


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