By Kevin A. Fritz and Craig B. Simonsen

EPA has just announced its Final 2012 and Preliminary 2014 Effluent Guidelines Program Plans, EPA-820-R-14-001 (September 2014). The Plans announce both final decisions the EPA is making on the control of industrial wastewater discharges, and its proposed “new actions for the future.”

The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to biennially publish a plan that establishes a schedule for (1) the annual review and revision of the Agency’s existing effluent limitation guidelines, (2) the identification of any new industrial categories selected for an effluent guideline rulemaking, and (3) to provide a schedule for new rulemaking. This year the EPA is looking particularly at the petroleum refining, oil and gas extraction, metal finishing, and nanomaterials industries.

The Agency announced that it will initiate a detailed study of the petroleum refining industry because of “potential pollutant discharge issues related primarily to metals.” The EPA’s continued category review of petroleum refining (40 CFR Part 419) toxic weighted discharges and review of new and revised air regulations indicated that the industries implementation of wet air-pollution controls, as well as a changes in feedstock, “may result in an increased discharge of metals from petroleum refineries, potentially at concentrations above treatable levels.”

The EPA will also prepare a detailed study of centralized waste treatment (“CWT”) facilities that accept oil and gas extraction wastewaters. The EPA seeks to determine if CWTs provide adequate treatment for these wastewaters that, under the current regulations, “may not provide adequate controls for the oil and gas extraction wastewaters.”

The EPA will continue its Preliminary Category Review of metal finishing (40 CFR Part 433), initiated in 2012.  In a review of the Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey data, the Agency found that these facilities may be “potentially discharging high concentrations of metals, particularly chromium, nickel, and zinc, to publically owned treatment works.”

The Agency will also prepare a report on a methodology and interim findings of its investigation into the environmental toxicity and industrial wastewater discharge of nanomaterials. In support of that investigation, the EPA requests public comments and any information or data available on the “wastewater hazards and discharges associated with the manufacture of nanomaterials and their use in manufacturing or formulating other products.”

Finally, the EPA has also announced that for the meat, poultry, pulp, paper, and paperboard industries – which EPA has been investigating for the past two years – “no further review is necessary since EPA has resolved the wastewater discharge issues in both industries and determined an effluent guideline revision is not warranted at this time.”

The public comment period on the Plans, in Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2014–0170, must be received by November 17, 2014. Stay tuned here for the latest.