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Water: Industry Effluent Guidelines


The Effluent Guidelines Program was established by Title III of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (Pub. L. 92-500), and amended by the 1977 Clean Water Act Amendments (Pub. L. 95-217) and the Water Quality Act of 1987 (Pub. L. 100-4). The Environmental Protection Agency issues industrial water pollution control regulations ("effluent guidelines and standards") for facilities discharging directly to surface waters and indirectly to publicly owned treatment works. The regulations are technology-based and are developed for specific industrial categories. Effluent guidelines are implemented in direct discharge permits issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES); "categorical standards" are issued for indirect dischargers through the National Pretreatment Program.

EPA issued effluent guidelines for more than 50 industries in the 1970's. Since those early regulations, EPA has added categories and also revised regulations for some categories. Today, these are effluent guidelines for more than 50 industries, preventing the discharge of over 700 billion pounds of pollutants per year into our nation’s waters. Many of these regulations were issued under schedules that had been established in court-ordered consent decrees.

Effluent Guidelines Task Force

One requirement of the 1992 304(m) Consent Decree was for EPA to create an Advisory Committee to assist the Agency in effluent guidelines planning. EPA established the Effluent Guidelines Task Force in 1992. Members were appointed from state and local governments, industry, citizen groups, the scientific/academic community, and EPA regional and field offices. The Task Force met periodically in public meetings held between 1992 and 2000, and submitted five reports to the EPA Administrator.

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Task Force Reports

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Legal Challenges

The following challenges and consent decrees, listed by their commonly-used names, were particularly noteworthy to the history of the Effluent Guidelines program.

The Flannery Decree
Settled a challenge by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Focus of the lawsuits was on requiring EPA to expand the list of toxic pollutants under 307(a)(1), promulgate effluent limitations and standards for those toxic pollutants already listed, and to require promulgation of pretreatment standards.
Decree entered in June 1976 (and modified in March 1979).
Required EPA to promulgate regulations establishing effluent limitations guidelines and standards for 21 point source categories by December 31, 1979 (modified date - June 30, 1984).
Pulp and Paper Decree
Settled, in part, a 1985 challenge by Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation.
Focus of the lawsuit was the regulation of dioxins and furans.
Decree established a proposed rule deadline of October 31, 1993. EPA met this deadline. The Decree also required EPA to use its best efforts to promulgate regulations addressing discharges of dioxins and furans from bleaching pulp mills by June 17, 1995.
Despite making its best efforts, EPA was not able to promulgate final regulations for those mills by that date. The Administrator signed final rules on November 14, 1997.
Offshore Oil and Gas
Settled a 1979 challenge by Natural Resources Defense Council.
Focus of lawsuit was EPA's promulgation of effluent guidelines and standards for the offshore subcategory of the oil and gas extraction category.
Consent decree entered in April 1990 required EPA to "propose or repropose effluent limitations guidelines and standards" for offshore oil and gas by November 16, 1990, and promulgate final effluent guidelines and standards by June 19, 1992.
EPA published proposed regulations on March 13, 1991, and final regulations on March 4, 1993.
The 304(m) Decree
Settled, in part, a 1989 challenge by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. and Public Citizen, Inc.
Focus of original complaint was the section 304(m) requirement to issue a plan regarding new or revised effluent guideline development.
Consent Decree entered in January 1992 and then modified several times.
Key aspects of the Consent Decree were EPA's commitments for proposing and taking final action on 19 effluent guidelines.
Practical result was the program's 11-year commitment to developing and issuing regulations to meet Court-ordered schedules.

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