The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to ramp up its recordkeeping requirements under the Clean Water Act, which could bring additional steps to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations permit holders as well as make that information more readily accessible to the public.
Wednesday the EPA proposed a rule that would modernize reporting processes for municipalities, industry and other facilities by converting to an electronic data reporting system.
EPA said in its release that the proposed e-reporting rule would make facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by permits accessible to the public through EPA's website.
Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said this latest rule is different than the CAFO reporting rule that livestock and poultry producers were able to convince EPA to back down on, but what has now brought the release of private producers' information to environmental groups.
Parrish noted this proposal "appears to be a glide path to making any and all information from permitted facilities available to the public." He explained that not only does it make the information for facilities that are required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit available, "this proposal makes it easier for EPA to make it public."
He added if there is any good news, it is that it would only apply to permitted livestock facilities, whereas the rule abandoned last year would have created Clean Water Act liabilities for operations that otherwise have no CWA requirements.
However, Parrish said this proposal still poses "significant privacy/food security concerns."
Currently, facilities subject to reporting requirements submit data in paper form to states and other regulatory authorities, where the information must be manually entered into data systems. Through the e-reporting rule, these facilities will electronically report their data directly to the appropriate regulatory authority. EPA expects that the e-reporting rule will lead to more comprehensive and complete data on pollution sources, quicker availability of the data for use, and increased accessibility and transparency of the data to the public.
The cost of implementing the proposed rule in the first four years after the effective date is approximately $50.6 million, the rule stated. The cost is estimated to drop to $2.9 million per year after that time period, when all regulated facilities will be converted to electronic reporting.
EPA estimates that, once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Island Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $29 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.
Most facilities subject to reporting requirements will be required to start submitting data electronically one year following the effective date of the final rule. Facilities with limited access to the Internet will have the option of one additional year to come into compliance with the new rule. EPA said it will work closely with states to provide support to develop or enhance state electronic reporting capabilities.
Parrish said EPA is considering exemptions for rural areas without broadband coverage.
EPA has already scheduled several webinars in an effort to help states, trade organizations, and other interested parties better understand the details and requirements of the proposed rule. Over the next few months, EPA expects to schedule additional webinar sessions.
The proposed rule will be available for review and public comment for 90 days following the publication date in the Federal Register of July 30.
View the proposed rule at: www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/07/30/2013-17551/npdes-electronic-reporting-rule