Editorial: EPA’s Proposed Rule & AAMP’s Response

AAMP Executive Director Chris Young breaks down what EPA is suggesting and what AAMP is doing to influence the final proposed rule.
By now you probably have seen some of the information that AAMP has put out about the upcoming proposed rule from EPA. You probably are wondering what this new rule would mean for you and your business. I am going to try to break down what EPA is suggesting, what it means for you as a plant owner, and what AAMP is doing to influence the final proposed rule.

What EPA is proposing to do is to change its current Effluent Limitations Guideline to regulate two new items, phosphate and nitrogen. These are two substances that previously have not been regulated in wastewater. According to EPA, large amounts of these substances are getting into waterways and causing serious environmental issues. EPA has not made changes to its Effluent Limitations Guidelines in almost 20 years, and I believe they are doing it now because of a lawsuit brought against it by environmental groups claiming EPA had not complied with the Clean Water Act and was allowing harmful chemicals to be discharged into waterways by a number of manufacturing industries.

What would this proposal mean for our industry? For those plants that discharge into a municipal wastewater treatment facility or directly into a waterway, you will need to test and treat your wastewater for phosphate and nitrogen. If you have a lagoon system where you are holding the wastewater, then you currently do not have to test or treat ­— but I don't trust that it will remain that way. Ask our friends in Michigan about their lagoons and their fight with the state EPA.

The information we currently have comes from a few of us in AAMP and affiliated associations participating in a panel in which EPA presented their initial thoughts on the proposed rule. We submitted comments on what we heard and are hoping EPA will use them to change its thinking. EPA gave some cost estimates that are all over the place, from $5,000 to $4 million for capital expenditure and then $5,000 to $700,000 in yearly costs. Most of you would fall into the $5,000 category, but I think costs will be higher than that if you need to redo your current system in order to be able to test and treat your wastewater before discharge.

What is AAMP doing to mitigate the effects of this on our members? When we first heard about it, we worked to get on the panel to be part of the discussion, and we were able to do that. We were able to speak with EPA during its presentation as well as submit comments and ask for changes as well as an exemption for small plants. Besides putting out information to the members across all our social media channels we also called on the membership to get involved. Several weeks ago, we sent out an email to you the members using a platform called Voter Voice. That email gave you an opportunity to reach out to your congressmen using the contact information we provided. Over 350 of you sent letters or called your representatives. As a result, we have been having conversations with a number of U.S. Representatives and Senators who have reached out to EPA on our behalf. AAMP continues to have discussions with them as we prepare for the proposed rule to be released.

We won't know any details for sure until the rule is released in December, and then there will be a comment period before the final rule is published.  We are probably looking at compliance beginning in 2025 or later. If you haven't contacted your representatives yet, then please do. The more people on Capitol Hill that are aware of this before it is released, the better it is for you.