Wastewater Dischargers Are Not Complying With EPA Pollution Control Permits

RCED-84-53: Published: Dec 2, 1983. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 1983.

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GAO reviewed compliance with and the effectiveness of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

NPDES was established by the Clean Water Act to limit the type and amount of pollution that a municipal or industrial facility may legally discharge into the nation's waterways. Under NPDES, discharge permits are issued, and GAO found that noncompliance with permit limits was widespread, frequent, and significant. Specifically, GAO estimated that 82 percent of the major dischargers sampled in six states exceeded their monthly average pollution permit limits at least once during an 18-month period and that 31 percent of those dischargers exceeding their limits were in significant noncompliance during that period. GAO stated that current enforcement practices allow noncompliance to continue for long periods and that thousands of dischargers have not been issued permits or hold expired permits. GAO noted that federal funding of water quality programs has significantly declined in recent years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA established an enforcement response guide, but did not establish specific time frames.

    Recommendation: To address problems in the NPDES permit program that can be mitigated without substantial additional resources, the Administrator, EPA, should issue guidance to EPA regions and states which establishes specific time frames when voluntary compliance efforts should end and when formal enforcement measures should be undertaken.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is sending some data to the regions.

    Recommendation: To address problems in the NPDES permit program that can be mitigated without substantial additional resources, the Administrator, EPA, should provide trend data from the EPA Laboratory Quality Assurance Program to regions and states to help them upgrade the quality of performance of laboratories providing data for discharge reports.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA issued guidance in 1985 that appears to be responsive to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To address problems in the NPDES permit program that can be mitigated without substantial additional resources, the Administrator, EPA, should require EPA regional offices and encourage the states to follow-up in a timely manner on missing and incomplete discharge monitoring reports.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA analyzed statewide compliance data, not specific data on the operation and maintenance program.

    Recommendation: To address problems in the NPDES permit program that can be mitigated without substantial additional resources, the Administrator, EPA, should develop information on New York State's subsidy program for treatment plant operation and maintenance to determine if the program does, in fact, improve compliance rates. If significant contributions have been made by the subsidy program, EPA should communicate the results of the program to all the states.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Resource needs were analyzed by EPA. There is no indication that EPA intends to devote additional resources to this matter.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should determine to what degree limited resources contribute to continued high noncompliance and enforcement problems in the permit program and present this analysis to Congress for its consideration in determining whether additional resources should be provided to improve the program's effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Legislation was formally submitted to Congress in mid-November 1983, two weeks before the issuance of the GAO report. Legislation which gave the authority for EPA to assess monetary penalties was signed by the President in January 1987.

    Recommendation: To address problems in the NPDES permit program that can be mitigated without substantial additional resources, the Administrator, EPA, should submit legislative proposals to Congress which would give EPA authority to assess monetary penalties for permit noncompliance.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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