The U.S. EPA announced in April that it plans to revisit the rules governing sewage treatment during rain and snow storms.
The agency is launching a new rulemaking process with the intention of bringing more clarity to its oversight of blending, it stated in an announcement. The rulemaking is expected to ease current prohibitions on blending.
Blending is designed to protect wastewater plants during heavy storms. Blending means routing some wastewater “around the treatment process before being blended with treated flows and then discharged into areas in the receiving waters known as mixing zones,” according to Bloomberg BNA.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement: “EPA is taking action on a new rule that will give municipalities much-needed clarity on blending at wastewater treatment plants. We look forward to engaging with partners at the state and local levels as we work to design a rule that offers a common-sense approach to protecting public health and safely managing our nation’s wastewater.”
In the mid-2000s, the U.S. EPA banned blending, arguing it violates the Clean Water Act, according to Bloomberg BNA.
In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said U.S. EPA’s ban was not valid. The court said the blending rule exceeded statutory authority. For this reason, the ban does not apply to states in the court’s jurisdiction, including Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
In the ensuing years, stakeholders have gone to court over the issue of whether the ban was lifted everywhere or simply in those states.
Blending proponents argue that the ban on this policy raises costs for wastewater utilities.
Allentown, PA, for instance, planned to “spend an estimated $37 million to reduce combined sewer overflows of wastewater and stormwater,” instead of using blending, Bloomberg BNA previously reported.
Blending opponents are concerned about harm to the environment.
“What the EPA doesn’t explicitly say is that it’s exploring a rule to allow treatment plants to release sewage that hasn’t been fully decontaminated,” The New Republic reported.
Image credit: "storm front 14," mr pbps © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/