Think your business doesn’t need a stormwater permit? It may be time for a second look.

May 16, 2016

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Recent flooding across the southeast has created a number of problems for communities from Houston, TX, to Shreveport, LA and the Pine Belt region of Mississippi. While neighbors battle floodwaters with sandbags, businesses have additional, silent risks to manage: stormwater runoff and unpermitted water pollution.

How do you know if your business activities require a stormwater permit?

  • Are your facility operations defined as an industrial activity?
  • Can stormwater from the site discharge into waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) or municipal separate stormwater sewer system (MS4)?

If you answered “yes” to the above questions, your facility certainly needs a stormwater permit, as well as a stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP). It’s important to note that the definition of “industrial activity” is extensive and explained at great length within the regulations. These activities are grouped into eleven broad industrial categories, which can also be found on the EPA website:

  1. Facilities subject to federal stormwater effluent discharge standards at 40 CFR Parts 405-471
  2. Heavy manufacturing (e.g., paper mills, chemical plants, petroleum refineries, steel mills and foundries)
  3. Coal and mineral mining and oil and gas exploration and processing
  4. Hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities
  5. Landfills, land application sites, and open dumps with industrial wastes
  6. Metal scrapyards, salvage yards, automobile junkyards, and battery reclaimers
  7. Steam electric power generating plants
  8. Transportation facilities that have vehicle maintenance, equipment cleaning, or airport de-icing operations
  9. Treatment works treating domestic sewage with a design flow of 1 million gallons a day or more
  10. Construction sites that disturb 5 acres or more (permitted separately)
  11. Light manufacturing (e.g., food processing, printing and publishing, electronic and other electrical equipment manufacturing, public warehousing and storage)

Your facility may qualify for a conditional No Exposure exclusion if you can provide written certification that all industrial materials and activities are protected by storm-proof shelter that prevents exposure to rain and snow or runoff.

Not sure how to answer the above questions? EPA says ignorance isn’t a defense.

“Stormwater” is defined by the government as stormwater runoff, snowmelt runoff, surface runoff and drainage. Under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, there is a zero tolerance policy for unpermitted discharges of pollutants into WOTUS. NPDES regulates point sources that discharge pollutants to WOTUS, and manages the permitting and enforcement aspects of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Unfortunately for the average business owner, ignorance isn’t an excuse if NPDES discovers an operation has unpermitted discharges—even if they were the result of extenuating circumstances.

…there is a zero tolerance policy for unpermitted discharges of pollutants into WOTUS…

Fines for violations can reach $37,500 per incident per day. Businesses recently affected by rising storm waters may easily have found themselves in noncompliance and at risk for enforcement action by the NPDES if flood waters disturbed any number of typical industrial activities, solvents, fuels, or lubricants.

Easy Steps to Safeguard Your Operations

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to protect your business. Applying for a no-discharge permit can help protect your business in the event of catastrophic flooding or other national disasters. These permits acknowledge your business activities as having no discharge of process waste and associated storm water under normal operation and include a provision for specific, major storm events. Industrial and construction businesses may be ineligible for a no-discharge permit, however, if they fall under the CWA Stormwater Program.

PPM can help you understand how your business operations are covered under the CWA and explain the benefits of a SWPPP in safeguarding your business against environmental liabilities.

In light of the recent severe weather events, even if your business doesn’t require a stormwater permit, it’s still a good idea to evaluate the use and storage of chemicals on your site. Simple steps now can minimize spills and prevent releases into the environment when extreme situations inevitably arise.

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