Friday, February 12, 2010

A Little Bit of Light - on the Federal Regulations

Back in November of last year--or was it early December--I became aware the the US EPA was issuing regulations on December 1 that would affect storm water discharges from construction sites. Being the good trainer that I am, and hopefully still a good engineer, I began doing research, put together a brown bag presentation, and taught it one Wednesday in December.

I did so, however, a little uncomfortable at my understanding of the regulation. The Federal Register entry was about 80 pages, of which the actual regulation was not quite two full pages. All the rest was explanation of the regulation and the process EPA went through to get from the draft regulation of Nov. 2008 to the final regulation of Dec. 1, 2009. Eighty pages of government speak. About twenty pages in my head was ready to implode from the sheer effort to stay awake.

How strange. Usually I enjoy reading things like this, but I was drowning in alphabet soup in the explanations. And, the wording of the actual regulation seemed backwards. And, it seemed the regulation did little more than codify what we are already doing to prevent stormwater pollution from construction sites, in compliance with various State regulations promulgated to comply with earlier Federal regulations. I put my brown bag training class together and taught it, but I told those who attended that I wasn't real confident that I was giving them everything they needed to know.

Last weekend I brought home the notebook I put together to study this whole thing. It contains the draft reg, the final reg, all the Federal Register explanations, a few of the supporting documents in the Docket for this rule making, and a printout of the 250 page "Development Document" of the regulation. My goal was to read the Development Document over the weekend and at least crawl out of the acronym soup.

How much to explain? When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and in amendments passed since, several categories of "non-numeric effluent limitations" were established, not based on what harm pollution would do to the water course, but based on what types of treatment technologies were available. So rather than effluent limits for suspended solids and turbidity, we had BAT, BADT, BPT, BCT, and NSPS, each describing a technology-based approach.

It was these acronyms that were bothering me. Oh, I was able to figure the names out and keep them somewhat straight, but I was not able to place those levels of treatment with what type of construction site or what type of discharge. I read over the weekend; I read Tuesday night (when writers guild was cancelled due to weather); I read Wednesday night; I read at work on Thursday; I read Thursday night. Slowly various aspects of the regs became clearer.

Today I was able to get back to them after lunch. I went to the Development Document and learned what EPA meant by active treatment systems (as opposed to passive treatment systems). But the DevDoc was not helping me with the acronym soup. So I switched back to the beginning of the eighty FedReg pages, and alternately going back to the regulation itself. The backwards wording was what troubled me. As EPA explained it: Regulation Option 1 is chosen as the basis of BPT for facilities covered by that sub-part. It seemed backwards; should be: BPT is chosen as the basis of treatment for facilities covered by that sub-part. Government-speak. And, the litany of treatment techniques listed in option 1 were actually the same for the other options, with the exception the other options had an extra requirement: turbidity limits and monitoring therefore.

Finally, about 3:00 PM, I realized that what EPA was saying was: The litany of treatment techniques listed in Option 1 qualify as BPT (best practicable control technology) and should be used for all facilities for which BPT is the standard. I suppose I should have realized that with the first reading. Maybe I did, and was making it all too complicated.

So, tonight I feel somewhat released from the burden of regulatory understanding, and am ready for something lighter. I read fifteen pages in Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live, a 1999 book about Christian world view. And, when I finish this post and check my stats, I'll go upstairs and read a few pages in the Carlyle-Emerson letters. I'm not sure that will qualify as "lighter" than FedReg and DevDoc and BPT/BCT/BAT/BADT/NSPS, but I think it will be more enjoyable.

From the Dungeon, over and out for tonight.

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