EPA Keeps Current Sewage Treatment Plant Standards

Published December 28, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided not to change the emission standards for large, publicly owned sewage treatment plants.

EPA’s decision was based on a risk and technology review the agency is legally required to undertake every eight years under the Clean Air Act (1970).

In December 2016, EPA proposed adding a sewage pre-treatment requirement for large treatment plants, to reduce emissions of various potentially harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, and tetrachloroethylene. After receiving public comments on the proposal, EPA decided against imposing new emission requirements on the plants.

In its notice of decision published in the Federal Register on October 27, 2017, EPA stated the earlier proposal “could cause confusion and increase compliance costs.” Instead, the agency wrote, it had “determined that the risks resulting from emissions from this source category are acceptable and there are no new developments in processes, practices or procedures.”

Costs Considered

John Dunn, a physician, lawyer, and policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says it is refreshing EPA did its job and considered costs in making its final decision about sewage treatment plant emissions.

“EPA is supposed to consider the potential economic costs their regulations may impose every time they consider ratcheting down emission limits or imposing new technological requirements, but they rarely do,” said Dunn. “In the past, they wouldn’t have thought about it at all, with their attitude being, ‘The more trouble we cause the people we think are polluting, the better we like it.’

“It is refreshing that under the Trump administration EPA seems to be following the law and considering costs, in this instance giving large, publicly owned plants and systems a break because EPA recognized [the proposed requirement] was going to be a burden on the taxpayers and the public entities or community sewage systems, for little or no public health gain,” Dunn said. “EPA always touts the benefits of the regulations it imposes, but it should be even more attentive to the costs or harms potentially imposed by its regulatory changes, adopting, if you will, an environmental Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.