EPA Final Rule (2008)
The EPA published revised regulations that address the Second Circuit court’s decision in Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. EPA on November 20, 2008 (effective December 22, 2008). The 2008 final rule revised and amended the 2003 final rule.
The 2008 rule addresses each point of the court's decision in Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA. Specifically, the EPA adopted the following measures:
- The EPA replaced the "duty to apply" standard with one that requires NPDES permit coverage for any CAFO that "discharges or proposes to discharge." The 2008 rule specifies that "a CAFO proposes to discharge if it is designed, constructed, operated, or maintained such that a discharge will occur." On May 28, 2010, the EPA issued guidance "designed to assist permitting authorities in implementing the by specifying the kinds of operations and factual circumstances that EPA anticipates may trigger the duty to apply for permits.” On March 15, 2011, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in National Pork Producers Council v. EPA again struck down the EPA's rule on this issue, holding that the "propose to discharge" standard exceeds the EPA's authority under the CWA. After the Fifth Circuit's ruling, a CAFO cannot be required to apply for an NPDES permit unless it actually discharges into a water of the United States.
- The EPA modified the requirements related to the nutrient management plans (NMP). In keeping with the court's decision in Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA, the EPA instituted a requirement that the permitting authority (either the EPA or the State) incorporate the enforceable "terms of the NMP" into the actual permit. The "terms of the NMP" include the "information, protocols, best management practices (BMPs) and other conditions in the NMP necessary to meet the NMP requirements of the 2003 rule." The EPA must make the NMPs in the applications filed by CAFOs publicly available.
- The EPA reiterated that in order to take advantage of the "agricultural stormwater" exception (upheld by the court in Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA) an unpermitted CAFO must still implement "site-specific nutrient management practices that ensure appropriate agricultural utilization of the nutrients as specified previously under the 2003 rule." The unpermitted facility must keep documentation of such practices and make it available to the permitting authority in the case of a precipitation-related discharge.
- The EPA addressed the Second Circuit's ruling on the effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) for CAFOs. The agency deleted the provision allowing new sources of CAFOs to meet a 100-year, 24-hour precipitation-event standard, replacing it with a no discharge standard through the establishment of best management practices. The EPA also clarified and defended its previous positions on (1) the availability of water quality-based effluent limitations (WQBELs) and (2) the appropriateness of the best control technology (BCT) standards for fecal coliform. First, the 2008 rule "explicitly recognizes" that the permitting authority may impose WQBELs on all production area discharges and all land application discharges (other than those that meet the "agricultural stormwater" exemption) if the technology-based effluent limitations are deemed insufficient to meet the water quality standards of a particular body of water. In particular, the EPA noted that a case-by-case review should be adopted in cases where CAFOs discharge to the waters of the United States through a direct hydrologic connection to groundwater. Second, the EPA announced that it would not be promulgating more stringent standards for fecal coliform than in the 2003 rule because it reached the conclusion there is "no available, achievable, and cost reasonable technology on which to base such limitations."
The 2008 final rule also specifies two approaches that a CAFO may use to identify the "annual maximum rates of application of manure, litter, and process wastewater by field and crop for each year of permit coverage." The linear approach expresses the rate in terms of the "amount of nitrogen and phosphorus from manure, litter, and process wastewater allowed to be applied." The narrative rate approach expresses the amount in terms of a "narrative rate prescribing how to calculate the amount of manure, litter, and process wastewater allowed to be applied. The EPA believes that the narrative approach gives CAFO operators the most flexibility. Normally, CAFO operators are subject to the terms of their permit for a period of 5 years. Under the narrative approach, CAFO operators can use "real time" data to determine the rates of application. As a result, CAFO operators can more easily "change their crop rotation, form and source of manure, litter, and process wastewater, as well as the timing and method of application" without having to seek a revision to the terms of their NPDES permits.
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