The regulated community and the public at large have a direct interest in what the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is planning to do.  The U.S. EPA’s agendas are anything but “typical” under the current administration that is decidedly contrary to any other administration.

The EHS Daily Advisor put it this way:  “The EPA’s commitment to regulatory reform through deregulation is evident in the Agency’s latest Regulatory Agenda.  The 145 entries on the Agency’s Fall 2019 Rule List include 56 actions that are expected to be deregulatory; these actions follow the 47 deregulatory amendments the EPA says it has already finalized under President Donald Trump.”

As we have stated many times, the current U.S. EPA’s leadership is far more interested in compliance over enforcement and is looking for states to take the lead like no time in the past.

With that said, there are some noteworthy issues among the many on the 2020 agenda.

Combined Sewer Overflow

The U.S. EPA plans to address problems with peak water flow.  They state, “Large wet weather events can exceed the POTW (Publicly Owned Treatment Works) treatment plant’s capacity to provide the same type of treatment for all of the incoming wastewater.  This update to the regulations will seek to clarify permitting procedures under 40 CFR part 122 to provide POTWs with separate sanitary sewer systems flexibility in how they manage and treat peak flows under wet weather conditions.”

Our sanitary and storm water sewers are in desperate need of updating. The EPA plans to focus on POTWs and CSOs in 2020.

This is long overdue; we have written about this several times in the past.  It’s clear that, despite our many environmental gains over the years, our infrastructure is outdated, and sewage is still being dumped into our water bodies.  This is a significant environmental and public health issue that will not be fixed easily.

Waters of the United States (WOTUS)

In what they list as “Step 2” (under water quality), the U.S. EPA will tackle the “waters of the United States” issue.  “In this second step, the agencies are conducting a substantive re-evaluation and revision of the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ in accordance with the Executive Order (13778).  The agencies plan to finalize the revised definition after reviewing public comments on the proposal.”

Past efforts to define WOTUS have only succeeded in generating more legal action.  A thoughtful, workable WOTUS definition would be welcomed news.  We’ll keep a close eye on this.

Drinking Water

While Flint, Michigan, was the most publicized municipality with respect to lead exceedances, they were not an isolated community.  In 2016, the Washington Post reported that, “According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), about 1,000 systems serving nearly 4 million people reported exceeding the EPA’s ‘action level’ of 15 parts per billion of lead in their drinking water between 2013 and 2015.”

In Michigan, several other cities have reported lead exceedances, including the affluent community of Birmingham, Michigan.

The Lead Copper Rule (LCR) was promulgated in 1991 and, overall, has been effective in reducing the levels of lead and copper in drinking water systems across the country. However, as the U.S. EPA states, “…there are significant challenges in the implementation of the current rule, including the degree of flexibility and discretion it affords systems and primacy states with regard to optimization of corrosion control treatment; compliance sampling practices, which in some cases, may not adequately protect from lead exposure; and limited specific focus on key areas of concern such as schools.”

Accordingly, the U.S. EPA states that they intend to “modernize and strengthen implementation of the LCR, strengthen its public health protections…”

Though, collectively, “we” have some work to do in reducing lead in drinking water, we have made significant progress.  According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the blood lead levels (in US citizens) in the decade from 1960 to 1970 was 60 micrograms/deciliter (μg/dl); today it’s about 5 μg/dl.


Finally, we’ll mention the “environmental elephant” in the room – Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the U.S. EPA to make regulatory determinations on at least five contaminants on the Contaminant Candidate List, or CCL, every five years.  The CCL contains contaminants that are not currently regulated under the primary drinking water regulations (and are, therefore, not enforceable).

Among the fourth CCL (CCL 4) list of chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), two chemicals in the family of PFAS.  According to the U.S. EPA, they “…intend to make preliminary regulatory determinations for PFOA and PFOS” by the end of 2019 (weeks away).  Following this, Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) could be established.  However, establishing a federal MCL is a long process, which is why many states have begun establishing their own MCLs.

The U.S. EPA goes on to say that they “…will begin the steps necessary to propose designating perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances through one of the available statutory mechanisms in Section 102 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).”

For more information, you can read the U.S. EPA’s 16-page Statement of Priorities.

Do you need help with an environmental issue?  Are you prepared for your 2020 environmental compliance reporting?  We can help.  If you have any questions or need assistance, you can contact me or call our office at 248-932-0228.

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