PFAS a Significant Focus in EPA’s Newly Released Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15)
On January 31, 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in the Federal Register the availability of Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15), which lays out how EPA will work to protect the nation’s waterways, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, by developing technology-based pollution limits and studying wastewater discharges from industrial sources. Consistent with the EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, EPA has been focusing on opportunities to limit PFAS discharges from multiple industrial categories, and Plan 15 contains numerous PFAS-focused elements.
Effluent limitations guidelines and pretreatment standards (ELGs) are national, technology-based regulations EPA develops to control industrial wastewater discharges to surface waters and Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs). Through the ELGs, EPA looks to achieve the greatest pollutant reduction through technology that is economically achievable for an industry. To date, EPA has promulgated ELGs for 59 industrial categories.
The Clean Water Act provides that EPA shall periodically review and revise ELGs. EPA’s process for doing so is to develop ELG Program Plans that set forth industrial categories and ELGs for study and potential rulemaking. After public review and comment on a preliminary plan, EPA finalizes ELG Program Plans which set forth industrial categories selected for ELG rulemakings, a schedule for such rulemakings, as well as any new or existing categories of industry selected for further review and analysis.
Plan 15 and PFAS
EPA released Preliminary Plan 15 in September 2021 and just released the final Plan 15.
Plan 15 proposes that EPA should undertake a rule to revise the ELGs for landfills; details the status of studies done to gather information regarding PFAS discharges; and provides updates on the status of previously proposed rulemakings.
Landfills Effluent Guidelines
EPA originally promulgated ELGs for landfills in 2000. Landfills discharging directly to surface waters are subject to the Effluent Guidelines regulation.
EPA determined that revisions to the effluent limitations guidelines and pretreatment standards for the Landfills Category are warranted, considering PFAS found in landfill leachate. EPA now intends to revise the existing Landfills Point Source Category ELGs to address PFAS discharge from these landfills.
- EPA plans to expand the detailed study of the Textile Mills Category to gather information on the use and treatment of PFAS in this industry and associated PFAS discharges via a questionnaire that will be directed at industry.
- EPA plans to initiate a POTW Influent Study of PFAS, which will focus on collecting nationwide data on industrial discharges of PFAS to POTWs, including categories recently reviewed, to both verify sources of PFAS wastewater and to discover new PFAS wastewater sources. EPA plans to collect samples of PFAS and Adsorbable Organic Fluorine (AOF) from industrial sources upstream of POTWs, before mixing and dilution from other waste streams make it difficult to identify the source of the PFAS. EPA will be developing an Information Collection Request (ICR) and a sampling strategy.
- EPA has decided to take no further action for the Electrical and Electronic Components (E&EC) Category at this time. EPA found that the existing ELG regulation, in conjunction with locally employed discharge limits, has for the most part been effective in limiting the discharge of pollutants from these facilities. EPA intends to continue to monitor discharges of PFAS from this category. The PFAS data EPA reviewed are limited; however, EPA expects to review additional data in the coming years as a result of the POTW Influent Study, updated TRI reporting requirements for PFAS, and NPDES permit monitoring requirements for federally issued permits and state permits as more states include monitoring for PFAS in permits. Accordingly, industrial facilities may be selected for sampling as part of the POTW Influent Study.
- EPA will continue to monitor PFAS use and discharges from the Pulp, Paper, and Paperboard Category. EPA found that only a small subset of facilities were actively applying PFAS; the production of paper products containing PFAS at these facilities was less than 0.1 percent of the industry’s overall production and the industry is planning to eliminate use of PFAS by end of 2023.
- EPA will continue to monitor PFAS use and discharges from airports. The 2020 NDAA required the Secretary of the Navy to publish new specifications for PFAS-free firefighting foams by January 2023; the DOD to cease procurement of PFAS-containing products by October 2023; and the DOD to cease use of AFFF at all military installations by October 2024, with limited exceptions. EPA will continue to review airports to further understand the potential for discharge of PFAS-containing wastewater from facilities that use AFFF and to monitor the industry’s transition to fluorine-free foam. EPA intends to provide updates on these activities in subsequent ELG program plans.
Status of Previously Proposed Rulemakings
- EPA plans a proposed rule in spring 2024 for the Organic Chemicals, Plastics & Synthetic Fibers Category rulemaking to address PFAS discharges.
- EPA plans a proposed rule for the end of 2024 for the Metal Finishing Category and Electroplating Category rulemakings to address PFAS discharges.
Companies that operate in the categories EPA has selected for focus will need to monitor EPA’s information gathering and rulemaking activities. EPA may request information and could propose rules that will effect discharge limitations contained in permits. EPA’s timelines for undertaking the actions outlined in Plan 15 are dependent on EPA’s Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations and operating plan.
© Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP 2023 All Rights Reserved. This blog post is intended to be a general summary of the law and does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with counsel to determine applicable legal requirements in a specific fact situation.