Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water, kicked off the presentation with a discussion of the environmental challenges ahead: population growth, development, climate change, and degradation of existing infrastructure. She emphasized that the greatest tool to overcome our obstacles is partnership, which was a recurring theme in many of this year’s presentations.
Office of Science and Technology
After Stoner concluded, Betsy Southerland of the EPA‘s Office of Science and Technology took the stage. Her office deals with technology-based and water quality- based standards. In the next year, her Office will be focused on the following water quality standard issues:
- Aquatic life criteria: There are currently 56 pollutants regulated, but over half of these are at least 20 years old. The Office will conduct a prioritization process to determine if what criteria need updating and if there are new pollutants that require guidelines.
- Water quality methodology: The Office will conduct an assessment to determine if methodology requires updating.
- Chloride, ammonia, conductivity, and selenium: The Office will reevaluate the criteria for these pollutants.
- Biosolids: The Office will continue its analysis and assessment of sources of biosolids, and consider new rule changes and determine if new contaminants need standards or if monitoring is sufficient.
EPA‘s Office of Science and Technology is also supporting the development of state numeric nutrient standards, and this fall, will be releasing the revised recreational water quality criteria. As for technology based standards, the Office’s focus areas are:
- Section 304(m) Biennial Plan: The Office is making a big effort for the 2012 plan for effluent guidelines, which will summarize status and recent activity.
- Analytical methods: The Office has recently finalized a rule that provides new QA/QC requirements, new and revised wastewater methods, clarifications and corrections to previously approved methods, and revisions to preservation and holding times.
- Effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs): The Office will be developing the construction and development ELG, finalizing the cooling water intake rule by June 27, 2013, updating the steam electric ELG for mercury and selenium, and collecting data for a coalbed methane and shale gas extraction ELG.
Office of Wastewater Management
Randy Hill, Acting Director of the Office of Wastewater Management, started his presentation with a discussion of the huge challenges presented by development. Every year in the United States, Hill explained, 1 million acres of land are developed and with such development, there is an increase in stormwater discharges which results in increased erosion and pollutant loadings.
In response to these stormwater issues, his office will be focused on developing new standards for new and redone construction that will require integration of green best management practices (BMPs) into projects to reflect pre-development natural stormwater flows. Hill detailed that the proposed standards will have great flexibility with site constraints, soil and hydrological factors, and water rights.
The Office of Wastewater Management will also be releasing the Wastewater Response Protocol Toolbox.
Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds
Denise Keenher of EPA‘s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds presented five areas on which her office will focus in the upcoming year:
- TMDL program: The Office will be determining what success means for this program and what its goals should be over the next decade. Keenher said that EPA is taking a new direction with its Healthy Waters Initiative, which seeks to prioritize high quality waters over improving impaired waters.
- Nutrient pollution: The Office will be partnering with the USDA to launch the National Water Quality Initiative.
- 319 program: The Office will be working on program improvements, including requiring states to produce more frequent and more precise nonpoint source pollution (NPS) plans, and have EPA do a more rigorous review of such plans. The Office will also be revising funding guidance, adding a requirements that at least 50 percent of funding for a project go to project implementation.
- Surveys: The Office is in the process of conducting the National Aquatic Resource surveys, which will be EPA‘s first opportunity to answer the question of whether U.S. waters are actually improving.
- Waters of the United States: EPA will be releasing final guidance to clarify protection of waters under the Clean Water Act.
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
Loren Denton said that in the coming year, his office will focus on water enforcement initiatives involving combined sewer overflow (CSO), separate sewer overflow (SSO), and municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) systems cases; animal waste and concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) discharges; and energy extraction initiatives/fracking.
In light of the recent Sackett v. U.S. EPA decision, Denton explained that the Office relies on administrative orders, and that EPA needs to seek to clarify its position as a result of the decision, in which the Court held that the Clean Water Act is subject to the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires an appeals process for any ruling by a federal agency, and that availability of immediate judicial review of compliance orders issued by the EPA is required. Although Sackett does not specifically proscribe the EPA‘s use of compliance orders in the future, it is probable that it will change the way they are used.
Denton also stated the Office is integrating green infrastructure into every municipal enforcement action, and is taking big steps to take EPA into the "next generation" of compliance with electronic reporting with a transition away from paper.
Amanda Czepiel, J.D., is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental law publications. Ms. Czepiel has over 6 years of experience as an attorney and writer in the field of environmental compliance resources and has published numerous articles on a variety of environmental law topics, including wastewater and NPDES permitting, brownfields and contaminated sites remediation, oil spill prevention, wetlands, and corporate sustainability. Before starting her career in publishing, Ms. Czepiel worked in hospitality consulting and for various non-profit organizations and government agencies in the environmental field. Ms. Czepiel received her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.