Philadelphia Water Pollution Lawyers
A variety of federal and state regulatory agencies are charged with the task of monitoring the quality of rivers and other surface waters, and groundwater resources, and enforcing existing water quality statutes. Philadelphia water pollution lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. are well-versed in the regulatory requirements and best practices for staying within the boundaries of these laws. By working closely with regulators, we guide clients through the exhaustive requirements of the permitting process for industrial and storm water discharges, offer sound land-use advice for development and planning, and provide highly qualified legal counsel if and when litigation arises.
Clean Water Act Permitting Process Governs Water Pollution Issues
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA), which gave is the federal government primary authority for regulating discharges of pollutants into federally regulated waters (“navigable waters of the United States”). The CWA authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delegate its enforcement authority to the states, so that most states have taken over responsibility for a permitting program which allows discharges into such waters. In addition, individual states have broader authority to regulate discharges into all surface waters within their boundaries, without regard to the “navigability” of those waters.
Under the CWA, it is illegal to discharge a pollutant into any navigable surface water without a permit, but permits can nonetheless be obtained pursuant to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The NPDES program is intended for all municipal and industrial facilities that discharge pollutants into bodies of water, such as wastewater treatment plants, municipal storm sewer systems and oil refineries. Industries and commercial businesses which discharge wastes directly into rivers or other surface waters must first apply for and obtain individual NPDES permits, (or for example, PADES or NJDES permits in PA or NJ).
The NPDES works to regulate point sources – usually pipes or man-made ditches – at which pollutants are permitted to enter the water supply. The NPDES establishes acceptable pollution limits (Effluent Limitations) and specifies a process and timeline for monitoring and reporting the same. These pollution limits contain numerical requirements specifically limiting the amounts of particular organic and inorganic parameters which such discharges may legally include. The permit requirements further require regular and accurate sampling of the constituents of the waste from the facility’s discharge point, in order to assure that those Effluent Limitations are not being exceeded. The results of this sampling must be reported in writing to EPA or the state regulatory agency in Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs), which are available to the general public.
Factories and businesses discharge their liquid wastes into public owned sewer treatment systems (POTWs), must comply with the permitting requirements of those POTWs. According to Philadelphia Water Pollution Lawyers, factories and businesses which discharge their liquid wastes into public owned sewer treatment systems (POTWs), rather than directly into surface waters, must comply with permitting, effluent limitation, and monitoring requirements set by the POTWs in order to assure that the discharges from the POTWs themselves are in compliance with federal and state law.
Failure to obtain an NPDES permit at all for a facility, or the failure to comply with the specific terms of an NPDES permit can have devastating legal and financial consequences. EPA and state regulatory agencies may bring criminal prosecutions for willful or negligent violations of the CWA and state laws, or may bring civil enforcement actions seeking substantial civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day for violations. Such civil penalties not only take into consideration the gravity of the harm caused by the pollution, but also the economic benefit which the company received from not properly complying with EPA’s requirements. For example, in 2014 in the largest CWA civil penalty action in history, a Virginia-based coal company and 66 subsidiaries was required to pay a $27.5 million penalty for 336 NPDES violations of permits into rivers and streams in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Depending on the nature of a client’s project, different types of CWA-related permits may be needed. Storm water permits, pretreatment permits, sewage facilities planning permits and treatment system construction permits cover just some of many activities that could result in a CWA violation. For example, builders and developers may require an NPDES permit for stormwater runoff from a construction site, which requires compliance with “best management practices” (BMPs) to avoid excessive erosion and sediment runoff into nearby streams. Oil and gas companies engaged in drilling and hydraulic fracking activities may require NPDES permits for on-site reinjection of process wastewaters into groundwater..
Secondary, State-Specific Permits Also Required For Many Businesses
Individual states may have additional permit requirements beyond standard NPDES discharge permits. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires a separate permit for construction or modification of publicly owned or privately owned sewage treatment plants, in addition to their basic NPDES permit. Similarly, the New Jersey DEP regulates the construction and operation of industrial domestic wastewater collection, conveyance and treatment facilities. A treatment plant may not be constructed in New Jersey without a Treatment Works Approval permit.
Philadelphia Water Pollution Lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C.
The environmental laws have long recognized that disposal of industrial and other wastes into water bodies is an acceptable method of waste disposal, as long as such wastes are discharged in accordance with federal and state regulatory plans and permitting requirements. If you are unsure what water pollution discharge permits, effluent limitations, or best management practices are applicable to your particular business activities, our Philadelphia environmental compliance lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. can help.