The Environmental Protection Agency's new general permit for construction-site stormwater runoff does not include a numeric limit for turbidity, a major victory for the construction industry. Still, the new permit will require substantially more cost and effort to comply with than the previous permit, industry sources say.
At more than 100 pages, "it's twice as long, and there's a lot of new stuff in here," says Leah Pilconis, senior environmental advisor to the Associated General Contractors of America.
The permit, issued on Feb. 16, replaces the EPA permit issued in 2008. It applies to states in which EPA has permitting jurisdiction under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Those states include Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico; the District of Columbia is also included.
The 2012 permit incorporates most aspects of the effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs), which EPA made final in December 2009. But because of litigation over the guidelines' first-ever nationwide numeric limit of 280 nephelometric turbidity units, the general permit does not include a numeric limit. Construction groups have said that a nationwide numeric limit would be difficult to achieve and problematic to enforce. However, EPA says it plans to issue a new numeric limit, and the agency published a notice on Jan. 3 in the Federal Register soliciting industry input.
The ELGs include "best management practices," some of which are overly prescriptive, says Ty Asfaw, environmental policy analyst for the National Association of Home Builders. For example, the 2012 permit defines the width of buffers between development and surface waters."Depending on the project's goals, it's going to be difficult for some sites to meet [that requirement]," Asfaw says.
The 2012 permit applies to all ongoing projects on which an EPA permit is required, a change from the 2008 permit, notes Pilconis. EPA has provided contractors with some flexibility, which is an improvement over the draft permit circulated last year, she adds.