Businesses Could Face Costly Compliance for Pending Industrial Stormwater Permit

April 14, 2004
A new state stormwater permit targeting industrial activities has caused concern among California businesses – and for good reason. If the permit is adopted, thousands of businesses could be forking over an additional $700/yr. in permit fees, not to mention thousands of dollars to implement more-stringent stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPP) and monitoring/reporting procedures. The 2003 Draft Industrial General Permit is a proposed follow-up to the existing industrial permit covered under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase I umbrella. The Phase II regulations that went into effect in March 2003, however, also have impacts on the industrial sector (e.g., nonexposure certification, also referred to as NEC). The Draft Industrial General Permit, released in 2002, has caused numerous comments to be submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and currently is under review by environmental agencies and the public. The pending permit covers new and existing stormwater discharges associated with certain types of industrial activity. Specifically it affects current Phase I permit holders and other entities not previously affected. In fact, the permit encompasses virtually all industrial facilities statewide – more than 11,000 in San Diego County alone. Targeted facilities include steam and electricity power plants, oil refineries, coal mining operations, paper mills, manufacturing plants, auto-salvage facilities, wastewater treatment plants, municipal public works garages, food-processing factories, landfills, and recycling facilities. The permit expands coverage to facilities with specific Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes; a list of all covered facilities/activities is available at www.swrcb.ca.gov. The Draft Industrial General Permit allows the state’s regional water boards to delegate stormwater compliance inspections to public agencies or private contractors. Facilities seeking not to be covered under the NPDES permit must submit NECs to the board ensuring that industrial activities at these facilities are contained indoors or under cover, thereby preventing stormwater from coming into contact with industrial activities and preventing subsequent runoff from entering storm drains.  In addition, the permit proposes a number of new SWPPP requirements, including the preparation of a SWPPP checklist, the identification of alternates for SWPPP team members, a detailed description of best management practices (BMPs), a thorough employee training program, and a detailed quarterly inspection program. One question that still remains is how much compliance with the Industrial General Permit will cost businesses. Developing and implementing compliant SWPPPs and executing more-rigorous monitoring and reporting requirements could cost businesses hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars a year – depending on the size and type of the facility, as well as the scope of SWPPPs being implemented. Another issue is the apparent nondifferentiation of Notice of Intent (NOI) and NEC costs for small, medium, and large businesses. NOI submissions, for instance, cost $700/yr. regardless of the size of the facility; NEC submissions cost $200 every five years. In theory, a small mom-and-pop business would have to pay the same NOI and NEC costs as a 200-employee manufacturing plant. The California Storm Water Quality Association (CASQA), formerly the Storm Water Quality Task Force, is one of the prominent organizations reviewing the Draft Industrial General Permit. CASQA comprises agencies, municipalities, special districts, and individuals responsible for or interested in the implementation of municipal stormwater management programs. CASQA assists in the development and implementation of stormwater programs statewide. Although CASQA supports the use of SWPPPs and BMPs to regulate stormwater discharges from industrial facilities, the organization has identified several areas within the permit that could be improved. CASQA submitted detailed comments and recommendations to the board with the intent of achieving the following goals: “1) identify achievable improvements in stormwater program elements; 2) simplify and streamline the permit format; 3) clarify compliance obligations; 4) provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate the diversity of the industrial activities covered by the permit; and 5) adequately address the EPA’s Phase II requirements, as well as the concern and criticism of Regional Board staff and citizen groups about the current permit.” Some industry experts predict that the 2003 Draft Industrial General Permit will bring about significant litigation because of its arguably contentious language. In any case, it’s important that targeted businesses be apprised of the proposed requirements, be prepared to take a proactive approach to compliance, and, most importantly, continue to do their part to prevent polluted runoff from spilling into our storm drains.

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