By Patrick D. Joyce, Philip L. Comella, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000021343324_MediumThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week finalized its rule to “modernize” Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory reporting requirements for municipalities, industries, and other facilities.

According to the Agency’s news release the final rule will require regulated entities and state and federal regulators to “use existing, available information technology to electronically report data required by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program instead of filing written paper reports.” EPA suggests that once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and other U.S. territories that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save about $22.6 million a year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.

As part of the final rule the EPA will make facility-specific information, like inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by NPDES permits, accessible to the public through EPA’s website. Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, indicated that “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.”

During the rulemaking process, the EPA had held over 50 webinars and meetings to discuss the proposed rule. NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule, 78 Fed. Reg. 46006 (July 30, 2013). In response to state feedback, the final rule will provide “more flexibility for implementation,” providing more time for the transition from paper to electronic reporting, and more flexibility in how states can grant electronic reporting waivers to facilities.

Most facilities subject to effluent monitoring reporting requirements will be required to start submitting data electronically one year following the effective date of the final rule. A second phase will incorporate electronic reporting for other Clean Water Act reports such as performance status reports for municipal urban stormwater programs, controls on industrial discharges to local sewage treatment plants, and sewer overflows. Also in response to comments and suggestions from states, EPA is providing states with more time to electronically collect, manage, and share this data – up to five years instead of two years as initially proposed.

As indicated in the Agency’s proposed rule, electronic reporting has already been implemented in some states, and early findings showed improved data quality and data availability with reduced costs.

For municipalities, industries, and other facilities, as the Agency noted in its release, this rule will give the public “full transparency” into water pollution sources. Now would be a good time to consider your facility and the reporting that you have been doing. Will electronic filing make a difference to you in terms of time spent reporting or accessibility of reports to the public? Does it matter if the filed information is readily and more easily accessible to the public? Thinking about these questions before the new rule is implemented may cause you to think about changes in the way “things have always been done.” Your Seyfarth Shaw attorney is always available to answer any pressing questions you may have regarding this new rule.