Recommending the Elimination of Over 1 Billion Pollutants Within Our Waterways

Waterway Advocates was a signatory on the below letter and recommendation relating to "Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0547-0001: Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15."


The Honorable Michael Regan

Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20460

Ms. Radhika Fox

Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20460

Comment on Docket EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0547-0001: Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15

Submitted via regulations.gov

Dear Administrator Regan and Assistant Administrator Fox:

On behalf of our supporters, the undersigned members and partners of the Clean Water for All Coalition appreciate this opportunity to thank EPA for taking steps to revise effluent limitation guidelines for Meat and Poultry Products, Organic Chemicals, Plastics & Synthetic Fibers, and Metal Finishing point sources, and Steam Electric Power Plants, outlined in EPA’s Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15).

Clean water is essential for our communities, from supplying drinking water to providing opportunities for recreation to serving as a foundation for local businesses. To protect our critical water resources, new effluent guidelines to better control pollutants are urgently needed. Currently, meatpackers are causing or contributing to impairments to the nation’s waters; toxic PFAS chemicals threaten the health of millions; and power plants are dumping into the waterways we need to survive. While Preliminary Plan 15 is a good first step, we urge the agency to establish the strongest possible standards to safeguard our waters, including regulating PFAS from all nine industry categories, closing loopholes and strengthening the 2020 Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule, and limiting the contributions of meatpackers to toxic algal blooms. We have outlined below in more detail our suggestions for EPA to improve Preliminary Plan 15.

Updating Meat and Poultry ELGs (40 CFR 432)

It is imperative that EPA strengthen the effluent guidelines regarding meat and poultry as soon as possible. As was detailed in the notice of intent to sue that was filed by the Environmental Integrity Project and others on July 2, 2019, the ELGs for many meatpackers have not been effectively updated since the mid 1970s and none for any meatpackers have been revised since 2004.

Since 40 CFR 432 was last revised, it has become even clearer that ammonia is highly toxic to much aquatic life, including many endangered species.1 There is no excuse for the lax ELGs applicable to meatpackers, particularly as numerous publicly owned sewage treatment plants are being required to denitrify to levels far below what is now required of meatpackers.

More dramatically, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from meatpackers, sewage treatment plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, fertilizer and other sources have caused harmful algal blooms across the country as well as massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie and other waters. Toxins from these harmful algal blooms endanger drinking water, swimmers, pets and aquatic life in huge numbers of lakes and rivers.2 Particularly given the failure of many states to adopt protective water quality standards for total nitrogen and phosphorus, it is necessary that EPA restrict nitrogen and phosphorus pollution through effluent limit guidelines. The ELGs currently applicable to the meat and poultry industry are wholly inadequate and fail to recognize technology that is widely used by POTWs.


Tackling Industrial Discharges of PFAS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of chemicals used to make military fire-fighting foam as well as water-, grease- and stain-resistant coatings for a wide range of consumer products and industrial applications. PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are extremely persistent in the environment and the human body, and many have been linked at very low doses to serious health harms, including cancer, thyroid issues, hormone disruption, kidney issues, low birth weights, reproductive and developmental harms, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines.

Thousands of communities in states across the country have confirmed the presence of PFAS in their drinking water, which leads to increased risk of cancer and other serious health problems. Nevertheless, the EPA has for decades failed to set legal standards for industries that discharge their PFAS waste into the nation’s water bodies and air.


According to recent analysis, nearly 30,000 industrial facilities could be discharging PFAS into the air and water. While some states like Michigan have taken steps to curb industrial discharges, most have not. That is why communities are counting on EPA to take actions to protect communities.

While Preliminary Plan 15 is a positive first step, it excludes seven out of the nine industry categories that are making the PFAS pollution problem worse, despite the well-documented risks posed by PFAS. Preliminary Plan 15 only includes the Organic Chemicals, Plastics, and Synthetic Fibers (OCPSF) category and part of the Metal Finishing category – chromium electroplating facilities. Furthermore, Preliminary Plan 15 fails to set deadlines for new standards. We find this extremely troubling. It is critical to include the additional industries now because the rulemaking process can take years to complete.

Recent analysis of Preliminary Plan 15 finds that only about 3,200 suspected PFAS dischargers might be subject to the rules for OCPSF and chromium electroplating facilities. By contrast, the bipartisan legislation passed twice by the U.S. House of Representatives would direct the EPA to develop discharge limits for likely more than 7,800 suspected PFAS dischargers.

Specifically, we urge EPA in its Final Plan to expand the industry categories list for the initiation of rulemaking beyond OCPSF and chromium electroplating facilities to also include: Pulp, paper, and paperboard; Textile mills; Electroplating; Leather tanning and finishing; Paint formulating; Electrical and electrical components; and Plastics molding and forming. The plan should also include deadlines for when the EPA will establish these standards in a manner that reflects the urgency of the problem.

Revising the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category On July 26, 2021 EPA announced its intention to initiate a supplemental rulemaking process to strengthen the 2020 Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule. We urge EPA to act swiftly to close loopholes and to address weakness in the 2020 rule. Steam electric power plants—mostly coal—are responsible for the majority of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, and other toxic metals discharged into our nation’s surface waters every year, and have made it unsafe to eat fish from many contaminated rivers and lakes. Power plants also discharge high levels of nutrients and bromide that can create treatment challenges for drinking water systems.


Specifically, EPA must close the bottom ash loophole created by the 2020 rule and reaffirm that zero discharge for bottom ash transport water is required. The majority of coal-fired power plants are already using dry handling or closed looped systems for their bottom ash transport water. EPA must also establish a zero discharge standard for flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater. Only membrane filtration or similar zero-discharge technology can eliminate bromide pollution, which is a threat to drinking water and human health.


We believe EPA should propose a supplemental rule earlier than the Fall 2022 deadline it announced earlier this year. The record before EPA in the 2020 rulemaking clearly showed that technologies to eliminate both bottom ash transport water and FGD wastewater are available, achievable, and affordable. Requiring plants to use these technologies would eliminate more than a billion pounds of pollutants from entering water bodies every year, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars per year in public health and environmental benefits.

We look forward to continuing to work with EPA as it moves forward with these Effluent Limitation Guidelines and urge the agency to use the full extent of its authority to protect human health and the environment.

Sincerely,

Albert Ettinger, Counsel Mississippi River Collaborative

Colin O’Neil Environmental Working Group

Jennifer Peters

Clean Water Action

Submitted on behalf of:

American Sustainable Business Council

Clean Water Action

Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed

Environment America Research & Policy Center

Environmental Working Group

Freshwater Future

Illinois Council of Trout Unlimited

League of Conservation Voters

Mississippi River Collaborative

National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association

Natural Resources Defense Council

NC Conservation Network

NJ Audubon

Park Watershed

Rural Coalition

Sierra Club

Surfrider Foundation

The Alliance for the Great Lakes

Waterway Advocates

Clean Water for All is a broad coalition of organizations who, working together with our partners, aim to elevate the importance of national safe and affordable clean water policies that support healthy communities, healthy ecosystems, cultural resources, and wildlife.

Clean Water for All Comment to EPA-HQ-OW-2021-0547
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