The final rule strives to take advantage of information technology, allowing resources to be used more efficiently and effectively, and giving the EPA, states and the public better access to key data.  Implementation will require clearing several hurdles, however.

On September 24, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator signed the final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Electronic Reporting Rule.  This rule, which will likely be published in theFederal Register sometime in October, will replace most paper-based Clean Water Act (CWA) NPDES permitting and compliance monitoring reporting requirements with electronic reporting.

This final rule requires that NPDES-regulated entities electronically submit:

  • Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs);
  • Notices of Intent to discharge in compliance with a general permit; and
  • Program reports.

The requirements of the rule will be implemented in two phases over a five year period following the effective date of the final rule.  During Phase 1, which will occur within one year after the effective date, EPA will begin to electronically receive from states, tribes, and territories DMRs and information regarding inspections, violation determinations and enforcement actions.  Sewage Sludge/Biosolids Annual Program Reports from the 42 states where EPA implements the Federal Biosolids Program also will be electronically submitted.  Authorized state NPDES programs also are required to submit to EPA an implementation plan for meeting the Phase 2 data requirements.

During Phase 2 of the final rule, EPA and authorized state NPDES programs will have five years to begin electronically collecting, managing and sharing general permit reports, Sewage Sludge/Biosolids Annual Program Report (for the eight states that implement the Federal Biosolids Program); and all other remaining NPDES program reports. These program reports include:

  • Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Annual Program Reports;
  • Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program Reports;
  • Pretreatment Program Reports;
  • Significant Industrial User Compliance Reports in Municipalities Without Approved Pretreatment Programs;
  • Sewer Overflow/Bypass Event Reports; and,
  • CWA Section 316(b) Annual Reports.

The final rule strives to take advantage of information technology, so resources can be used more efficiently and effectively by providing EPA, states and the public with greater access to key data.  Implementation of the final rule will, however, require clearing a number of hurdles.  Perhaps most challenging will be the development and integration of the electronic reporting systems given the number of authorized programs and regulated facilities.  EPA is working with states, tribes, territories, and third-party software vendors to develop electronic reporting tools and National Environmental Information Exchange Network protocols.  Recognizing that many states, tribes, and territories have their own electronic data systems and reporting tools for managing NPDES data, EPA will not require a uniform reporting tool so long as the tool meets the requirements of the rule.

NPDES-regulated facilities also will need to be trained in using the electronic reporting systems.  This will require much effort and time, with state agencies needing to provide compliance assistance and demonstrate wise use of their enforcement discretion as the parties work through inevitable glitches in the electronic reporting systems.