Tighter Standards on Storm-water Runoff Proposed

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed tighter controls on storm-water discharges on construction sites. If adopted, these proposed standards may end up costing the construction industry in excess of $2 billion annually to monitor and chemically treat and filter storm-water runoff from construction sites, according to an industry group.

The Problem

The EPA says that it wants to strengthen existing regulatory programs for discharges from construction sites. The agency has stated that improper control of storm-water discharges from construction activity is “among the many contributors of sediment which is one of the major remaining water quality problems throughout the United States.” The EPA notes that storm-water discharges during the clearing, excavating, and grading of construction sites can cause a range of physical, chemical, and biological impacts on lakes, streams, and rivers.

What the Guidelines Propose

Current regulations require contractors to implement control measures to manage discharges associated with construction activities. The proposed standards, known as effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) and new source performance standards (NSPSs), would establish a technology-based “floor,” or minimum requirements that contractors would have to meet in order to obtain the required construction permits. Under the proposed ELGs, storm-water discharges from construction and development sites would have to meet a numeric effluent limit designed to reduce the amount of sediment, turbidity, total suspended solids, and other pollutants in discharges from the sites.

The proposed regulations are designed to supplement existing state and local programs that seek to impose limits on pollutants in storm-water discharges.

Costs to the Construction Industry

The EPA states that, if implemented, these standards would cost the construction industry close to $2 billion annually. Construction industry groups argue that the real cost of the new standards would be significantly higher. Experts with the Associated General Contractors of America estimate that the new rules would cost site operators approximately $20,000 per acre for compliance.