Permits and state permit programs

AuthorJeffrey G. Miller/Ann Powers/Nancy Long Elder/Karl S. Coplan
Permits authorizing the d ischarge of pollutants to navigable waters by
point sources a re issued u nder §402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). ey
may be issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or by
a state with a progra m approved by EPA as meeting the requirements of
§402(b). is permit system is called the national pollutant discharge elimi-
nation system (NPDES). us the permits are often referred to as NPDES
permits, or SPDES permits if issued by a state. In 1990, there were about
65,000 point sources permitted under the national system: 15,500 municipal
facilities and 49,500 industrial and commercial facilities. EPA classies about
7,000 of these permits as “major,” 3,700 municipal, and 3,600 industrial and
commercial. “Major” dischargers are responsible for 90% of the pollutants
discharged by all permittees. U.S. EPA, A P   O  W
E  P  (1990). Requirements for the contents and pro-
cedures for the issuance of NPDES permits are found at 40 C.F.R. parts 122
through 125. ey apply to permits issued by EPA and most of them apply
to permits issued by states with approved NPDES programs, through similar
requirements contained in state reg ulations. ree most important sections
of an NPDES permit are the specication of euent limitations, the compli-
ance schedule and the monitoring and reporting requirements.
A permit for Crane and Company Inc.’s specialty paper manufacturing
plant in Dalton, Massachusetts, is reprinted at the end of this chapter. Review
it to become fa miliar with the format and contents of permits. Refer to the
relevant parts of it as each component of a permit is discussed in t his book.
Each permit has a set of euent limitations uniquely developed for the
applicant. ese limit the amount and/or the concentration of a particular
pollutant that may be discharged. See 40 C.F.R. §§122.44, 122.45. Permits
for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) typica lly establish limits for
biochemical oxygen dema nd (BOD), suspended solids (SS), a measure of
hydrogen ion concentration (pH), fecal coliform, chlorine (sometimes both
408 Water Pollution Control, 2d Edition
a minimum and a maximum: a minimum to ensure enough chlorine is
being used to control pathogens and a max imum to protect the biota of the
receiving water from too much residual chlorine) a nd perhaps phosphorus
and nitrogen as ammonia. Permits for industrial dischargers will often limit
BOD, suspended solids, pH, as well as a number of heavy metals and organic
or inorganic chemicals ty pical of the discharge.
Most euent limitations, especially those based on euent limitations
guidelines, are stated as mass limitations (e.g., pounds or kilograms per day),
rather than as concentration limitations (e.g., parts per million (ppm) or
micrograms per liter). See 40 C.F.R. § 122.45(f). In theory, concentration
limitations can be met merely by dilution, but the CWA is premised on treat-
ment, not dilution. Sometimes limitations are established for both mass and
concentration. Limitations that reect water quality standards may be stated
as concentrations only, because most water qua lity criteria being met in the
receiving waters are concentration standa rds. Some limitations, of course,
must be stated in other terms, e.g., pH or temperature. Limitations may be
written as instantaneous maximums (never permitted to be exceeded) or they
may be average values for a day, a week, or a month. A given limitation, e.g.,
30 ppm of pollutant X, is a much more stringent limitation as an instanta-
neous maximum than as a monthly average. Do you see why? e relative
ease or dicult y in meeting the lim itations is also aected by the frequency
of the monitoring requirements established to measure compliance. Do you
see why?
Euent limitations in permits are derived primarily from technology-
based euent limitations g uidelines promulgated by EPA and water qua lity
standards adopted by states and approved by EPA. A permit will incorporate
only one limitation for each pollutant, reecting t he more stringent of the
euent limitations guideline or the water quality standard. Occasionally,
euent limitations are derived from other requirements, as explained below.
Because tens of thousands of substances occur in wastewater discharged
by permitted point sources, the number of pollutants that could be limited
is also in the tens of thousands. e number of pollutants for which limita-
tions are established in a permit is largely left to the discretion of the permit
writer. It is usually a small number, 10 to 12. As a practical matter that is
usually su cient. Permit applicants are required to report on a much larger
number of pollutants in their discharges, enabling the permit writer to deter-
mine which are important enough to regulate. In addition, most common
industrial wastes have been studied well enough to know their composi-
Permits and State Permit Programs 409
tion, enabling the permit writer to independently assess the reliability of the
applicant’s information. Moreover, many of the pollutants limited in permits
are generic surrogates for a large number of specic pollutants, e.g., BOD,
chemical oxygen demand (COD), and SS. Finally, eective treatment of one
pollutant that is limited in a permit may necessarily result in eective treat-
ment of many other pollutants that are not mentioned. Neutralizing a metal
plating acid to meet a pH requirement, for insta nce, has the consequence of
precipitating out a dozen heavy metals.
Specically limiting thousa nds of pollutants in a permit is impractical. At
the very least, it would create a cumbersome permit a nd oer thousa nds of
conditions to attack during judicial review. In any event, limiting pollutants
has little eect unless monitoring is required to ensure the limitations are
met. Analyzing for t housands of pollutants at a permitted discharge, how-
ever, could cost more than providing the treatment required, diverting funds
from pollution abatement for little gain. Having a larger number of pollut-
ants for which no euent limitations are established in a permit, however,
raises the question of whether the unmentioned pollutants are unregulated.
is question will be discussed when the eect of a permit is examined.
a. Technology-Based Euent Limitations
To determine an euent limitation based on technology-based standards,
the permit writer usually need look no further tha n the euent limitations
guidelines (or, in the case of POTWs, the secondary t reatment sta ndards)
published in the Code of Federal Regulations. Of course, the guidelines for
the right category of industry, e.g., pulp and paper, and for the right subcat-
egory, e.g., paperboard, must be found. en it is a relatively simple matter of
translating the guideline into an euent limitation. If t he guideline for best
available technology (BAT) for a particular industry is 5 pounds of X pol-
lutant per ton of production and the permit applicant’s production capacity
is 10 tons a day, the euent limitation would be 5 pounds of X times 10, or
50 pounds a day of X. Or would it? Does it matter whether the plant actu-
ally produces 10 tons a day of product? What if it averages 6 and has never
exceeded 8 tons a day? See 40 C.F.R. § 122.45(b)(2)(i). Of course indus-
trial plants often have more than one operation and therefore more than one
waste stream. A dierent subcategory of the euent limitations guideline
may apply to each waste stream. In this case, a n euent limitation is devel-
oped for each waste stream a nd, assuming the waste strea ms are combined
for central treatment, the euent limitations are aggregated and apply to the
combined discharge from the central treatment facility. For further guidance

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