Thursday, December 10, 2009

Turbidity Limit on Construction Phase SW Challenged

from Inside EPA Water Policy Report - 12/7/2009

Key Republican lawmakers are slamming EPA’s just-signed regulation governing stormwater discharges from construction sites, saying it is far too costly for the environmental benefits derived. EPA’s rule is in the top five least cost-effective regulations, across all federal agencies, since the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) began tracking such figures in 1992, according to industry’s review of OMB’s records.

“I am extremely concerned about the impact this rule will have on economic recovery in the U.S.,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate environment committee, said in a statement to Inside EPA.

At issue is EPA’s just-signed, court-ordered rule governing stormwater runoff from construction sites. EPA included in the rule a numeric limit for turbidity prompting industry criticism because it will cost almost $1 billion per year to fully implement. (Note: This is a significant change from previous regulations, which said that certain practices must be followed, but did not specify outcomes.)

The construction and development sector effluent limitations guideline phases in a numeric limit of 280 nephelometric turbidity units (NTUs), a unit of turbidity, and requires “passive” filtering technologies to meet the standard. (What does 280 NTU look like? See the image below:)
Inhofe singles out in particular the controversial numeric turbidity limit in the regulation for criticism. “[T]he rule sets an arbitrary ‘turbidity’ benchmark that will be extremely cost burdensome for builders to achieve, especially with the current limited technology. It also provides yet another tool for environmentalists to delay or stop important development and transportation projects through frivolous litigation,” Inhofe said.

Although EPA is only requiring passive treatment systems in the rule, industry fears that in many parts of the country, the active systems will be needed to meet the numeric turbidity limit. Further, industry argues concerns about liability will force the use of active treatment because passive treatment systems can vary in effectiveness based on circumstances, potentially putting construction site discharges in violation of the law.