EPA issues permit for storm water discharges from construction sites

April 2012, Vol. 67 No. 4

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a new permit, in accordance with the Clean Water Act, that will provide streamlined permitting to thousands of construction operators, while protecting our nation's waterways from discharges of polluted storm water from construction sites.

Storm water discharges from construction sites can contain harmful pollutants, such as nutrients, that contaminate waters, increase drinking water treatment costs, and damage aquatic ecosystems. The new permit was shaped by important input from the public and stakeholders to ensure that it provides important protections for waterways, while also providing flexibility to operators.

The 2012 construction general permit (CGP) is required under the Clean Water Act and replaces the existing 2008 CGP, which expired on Feb. 15. The new permit includes a number of enhanced protections for surface waters, including provisions to protect impaired and sensitive waters. Under the Clean Water Act, national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits are typically issued for a five-year period, after which time EPA generally issues revised permits based on updated information and requirements. NPDES permits control water pollution by including limits on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged into waterways by specific sources. The permit also provides new flexibilities for operators.

The 2012 CGP updates include steps intended to limit erosion, minimize pollution sources, provide natural buffers or their equivalent around surface waters, and further restrict discharges to areas impaired by previous pollution discharge.

Many of the permit requirements implement new effluent limitations guidelines and new source performance standards for the construction and development industry that became effective on Feb. 1, 2010, which include pollution control techniques to decrease erosion and sediment pollution.

The permit will be effective in areas where EPA is the permitting authority: Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and most U.S. territories and in Indian country lands.