Technology-based standards

AuthorJeffrey G. Miller/Ann Powers/Nancy Long Elder/Karl S. Coplan
Prior to 1972, water pollution control limitations were e stablished for
individual polluters based on the reductions required in t heir pollution to
achieve water qua lity standards. As described in Chapter V, this approach
was u nsuccessful for a variety of reasons, including the diculty of estab-
lishing individual limitations on that basis. Most participants in the congres-
sional debates on how to reform water pollution control regulation agreed
that fundamental changes were required in the regulatory approach. Nev-
ertheless, for the most part, the U.S. House of Representatives preferred to
proceed with a state-driven water quality-based system, while the U.S. Senate
preferred to switch to a federa lly driven technology-based system. e com-
promise solution was to use both systems.
Proponents of the technology-based system viewed that system as superior
for several reasons. It established a uniform national base for all members of
the same industry, providing industry a “level playing eld” and eliminating
most of the “pollution haven” problems that had plagued earlier pollution
control eorts based on water quality standards alone. It promised easier
implementation, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
establishing treatment requirements at one time for each industrial category,
rather than requiring 50 states to establish standards one at a time for every
industrial facility. Easier implementation promised less costly and quicker
implementation. e gradation in pollution removal achieved by dierent
control systems also suggested a phased process. Industry would be required
rst to install basic controls, then subsequently install advanced controls,
providing progressively better pollution control and spreading the cost of
controls over two phases.
Opponents of the technology-based system saw it as “treatment for t reat-
ment’s sake,” and an economic wa ste to require expenditures for pollution
control that were not needed to achieve desired water quality. In their opin-
ion, it reected a view that any pollution was immoral and should be stopped
regardless of the cost. In all probability, there are instances in which the
technology-based sta ndards have resulted in treatment not really needed to
322 Water Pollution Control, 2d Edition
achieve clean water and some of the proponents of the system view pollution
as immoral. is la rgely misses t he point of most advocates of the system.
As a system it is a profoundly pragmatic one. Rat her than endlessly debat-
ing interesting questions of how clean water should be and how much of the
burden of clea n water each source could justly be asked to bear, it requires
everyone to ta ke practical measures to achieve clean water. It ask s no one
to do the impossible, but only what is demonstrated as technically and eco-
nomically possible.
Even though both the water quality-based and the technology-based
systems were adopted in the 1972 legislation, the technology-based system
dominated water pollution control for the rst two decades. It proved to
be a practical system t hat was relatively easily administered and provided
demonstrable and sometimes dra matic improvements in water quality.
Almost by denition, however, it is a system of limited possibilities. Once
the progressively more stringent levels of pollution control technology have
been accomplished, there a re no more technology-based controls to apply.
is leaves water qua lity standards as the only means of attaining f urther
progress toward clean water. Water quality standards can be used to ext ract
the last ounce of pollution control from industrial sources, demand more
of relatively unregulated municipal sources, and perhaps address the almost
entirely unregulated nonpoint sources.
us, technology-based standards are not on today’s cutting edge of water
pollution control. ey are still, however, the basis on which most point
sources are regulated, including new sources. Technology-based sta ndards
could again become a driving force for pollution control under the Clean
Water Act (CWA), if the present renaissance of water quality standards forces
the development of better technologies for impaired waters. New technologies
could become the basis for upgrading the best available technology (BAT).
Technology-based standards could also serve as a model for setting standards
for nonpoint sources. e success of the technology-based standards has pro-
vided a model that is used in other areas. Notable exa mples include many of
the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sta ndards for hazard-
ous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, as well as the Clean A ir
Act (CA A) toxic pollutant standards. us, the issues posed in developing
technology-based standards are common issues found in pollution control.
To implement the technology-based strategy, EPA develops and promul-
gates technology-based standa rds, commonly called euent guidelines,
pursuant to §§301 and 304 of the CWA. EPA promulgates a separate eu-
Technology-Based Standards 323
ent guideline for each industrial category, e.g., the pulp and paper industry.
Within each industr y, it may promulgate dierent guidelines for subcatego -
ries, e.g., corrugated cardboard mills a nd tissue mills. To develop an euent
guideline, EPA studies the eectiveness of dierent treatment technologies
used by the industry or available to it, as well as the costs of the technologies.
When EPA selects a particular technology on which to base a guideline,
it does not mandate the use of that technology by everyone in the indus-
try. Instead, it establishes a standard of the pollution control performance
achieved by that technology. en the a ected industrial facilities are free
to achieve that performance standard in whatever way they choose, either by
applying the model technology or by developing a dierent way of achieving
the same results. Such performance-based standards encourage technologi-
cal development by allowing industry to develop cheaper and more ecient
approaches to attain the required standards.
e process for developing a guideline begins with a comprehensive study
of the subject industry: the raw materials it uses; the industrial processes it
uses to turn t he raw materials into the products it sells; the composition of
the euent it produces; the technologies it uses to treat the euents, their
eciencies and costs; and the economic and competitive proles of the indus-
try. To accomplish these studies, EPA usually hires a contractor and sends
a series of survey s to industrial facilities mak ing information requests u nder
the authority of §308 of the CWA. EPA will publish the resulting informa-
tion in a “development document” or series of development documents. EPA
then proposes a standard in the Federal Register, together with a preamble
explaining the technical and legal justication for the standard. Interested
parties will then comment during the comment period. en EPA will pro-
mulgate the nal standard in the Federal Register, again with a preamble, but
this time responding to the comments on the proposed standard, explaining
any changes between the proposed a nd nal standard, and explaining the
justication for t hem. e resulting euent guidelines are published in the
Code of Federal Regulations, beginning at 40 C.F.R. pt. 400.
Euent guidelines are not static. CWA §301(d) requires EPA to review
each guideline at least once ever y ve years to determ ine whether it still
meets the statutor y criteria or must be made more stringent to reect
newly available tec hnologie s or lowered t reatment cost s. In August 2005,
EPA proposed a new plan for the re view of g uidelines. Instead of e val-
uating all industries’ euent limitat ions, EPA would select ively review
industr ial sectors ba sed on their environmental risk. Notice of Avai labil-

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