National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)

NACWA files petition for reconsideration and stay of final sewage sludge incineration rule with EPA

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The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) today filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting reconsideration and a stay of the Clean Air Act (CAA) maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for municipal sewage sludge incinerators (SSIs) (“Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Sewage Sludge Incineration Units”).

Published in the Federal Register on March 21, 2011 the SSI Rule establishes emission limitations and other requirements under the CAA applicable to SSIs.  This petition for reconsideration and stay of the SSI Rule comes after NACWA filed a legal petition for review of the final Rule on May 6 with the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit).  Taken together, NACWA’s petition for reconsideration to EPA and legal challenge to the SSI Rule in the D.C. Circuit mark the start of the Association’s advocacy efforts to ensure EPA addresses fundamental flaws in the emissions limits and the significant negative environmental and economic impacts the standards will have on communities that rely on SSIs as a safe and efficient form of biosolids management.

NACWA and its clean water utility members have long advocated for maintaining the flexibility local communities need when choosing biosolids management approaches that work best within the economic and environmental constraints unique to each locality.  However, EPA’s approach to regulating biosolids incineration under the final SSI Rule ignores Congressional intent and the statutorily mandated provisions that would ensure the proper balance between CAA regulation and maintaining incineration as an environmentally beneficial and economically viable option for these communities.

EPA’s SSI Rule contains a number of significant errors, including regulating SSI units under CAA Section 129 instead of under Section 112, where Congress directed emissions from publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to be regulated; failing to establish subcategories recognizing fundamental class and use differences among SSIs; and ignoring data showing variability in the concentrations of metals that end up in biosolids and that affect the overall performance of each individual SSI – and thus affecting the overall achievability of the emissions standards.

NACWA believes that because the flaws in the SSI Rule are fundamental and pervasive – implicating the legal authority for the rulemaking, the selection of pollutants for which standards may be established, the selection of SSI subcategories, and numerous other aspects of the Rule – it is impossible to carve out and maintain segments of the SSI Rule due to the various serious legal and technical errors.  Accordingly, NACWA believes the entire Rule should be reconsidered.

“EPA’s final SSI Rule will have a significant and immediate impact on those communities that have relied on incineration as an environmentally safe and economically responsible way to manage biosolids for many years,” said Ken Kirk, NACWA’s Executive Director.  “The Rule is based on insufficient and faulty data and contains numerous errors – simply stated, EPA got this regulation wrong.  We are not saying that SSIs should not be regulated.  Instead, we believe they should be regulated under the appropriate section of the Clean Air Act as directed by Congress and that any emissions standards be based on accurate data, a full understanding of how wastewater treatment plants and SSI units operate, cost considerations regarding the regulation, and the environmental viability — or non-viability —of alternative management options.  Through today’s reconsideration petition and our legal challenge pending in the D.C. Circuit, we intend to protect the nation’s public clean water utilities that operate SSIs from these unreasonable and flawed regulations.”

In addition to requesting reconsideration of the SSI Rule, NACWA’s petition also requests that EPA stay or postpone the effective date of the final Rule pending the reconsideration process and promulgation of regulations replacing the SSI Rule.   NACWA’s request for a stay is based on the environmental, economic, and future regulatory harm that clean water utilities with SSIs could suffer if a stay is not granted.

NACWA and its members hope EPA will give serious consideration to these issues and look forward to assisting the Agency in meaningful reform to the SSI Rule.  Again, NACWA’s petition can be found on its website by clicking on the hyperlinks above or at http://www.nacwa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29&Itemid=27.

NACWA represents the interests of more than 300 public agencies and organizations that have made the pursuit of scientifically based, technically sound and cost effective laws and regulations their objective. NACWA members serve the majority of the sewered population in the United States and collectively treat and reclaim more than 18 billion gallons of wastewater daily.

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