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EPA Releases Proposed Air Emission Standards Impacting the Management of Sewage Sludge Nationwide

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For Immediate Release:
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Contact: Chris Hornback, (202) 833-9106
Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs

 

EPA Releases Proposed Air Emission Standards Impacting the Management of Sewage Sludge Nationwide

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed standards under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) that will have a major impact on the limited options local governments have for the management of sewage sludge.  In the U.S., nearly a fifth of all the sewage sludge produced annually is incinerated in sewage sludge incinerators (SSIs).  EPA’s proposed new source performance standards could effectively eliminate the construction of new SSIs, and the standards for existing SSIs could force many communities to abandon incineration as early as 2016.

SSIs are comprehensively regulated under the Part 503 regulations, developed by EPA under Section 405 of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  NACWA has long advocated, and EPA has consistently agreed, that SSIs should be regulated under Section 112 of the CAA.  EPA, however, in response to a series of recent court rulings, has erroneously ignored its previous determinations and developed today’s proposed standards for SSIs under Section 129.

The new standards will require the vast majority of existing SSIs to install additional pollution control devices at a capital cost of over $200 million dollars and an annual increase in costs of approximately $100 million, according to EPA.  EPA asserts that some of these costs will be avoided since many public wastewater utilities will simply abandon incineration and send their sludge to a landfill instead.  NACWA, however, believes that EPA’s analysis has understated the true costs utilities will incur to enable them to send their sludge to a landfill and has largely overlooked the negative environmental impacts that could result from abandoning incineration in favor of landfilling.

The proposed standards are based on a maximum achievable control technology (MACT) level of performance.  For mercury, however, EPA has gone a step further and has proposed a control level that goes ‘beyond the MACT Floor’ at an estimated cost of $12 million dollars per ton of mercury removed – but even that extraordinary cost is significantly underestimated.  NACWA believes that EPA has overestimated the contribution of mercury from SSIs.  The proposed rule’s estimate of mercury emissions each year from 218 SSIs is more than three times the estimate the Agency provided to Congress in its 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, which was released prior to many communities taking action to further control mercury levels in their sludge.  Additional mercury reductions from current levels will cost well over $40 million per ton, and that cost per ton may double when EPA-mandated controls for dental clinics are fully implemented.

Rather than encouraging upgrades to newer, cleaner incinerators paired with energy recovery that can offset a significant amount of the energy needs for treating wastewater, the proposed standards will result in many of the Nation’s wastewater utilities abandoning their significant capital investments and simply sending an energy-rich secondary material for disposal in a landfill.  During a period of time where municipalities are facing enormous economic challenges and an ever-expanding regulatory landscape, it is critical for EPA to ensure its policies are environmentally and economically sound, and ensure those policies allow municipalities to manage their resources wisely and engage in practices that can maximize their resources and limit their carbon footprint.

 

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NACWA represents the interests of nearly 300 of the nation’s publicly owned wastewater treatment works, serving the majority of the sewered population in the United States, collectively treating and reclaiming over 18 billion gallons of wastewater every day.

 
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