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EMC Committee Sends Nutrient Rules Back for Overhaul

November 18, 2010

Recognizing the significant concerns raised by municipal stakeholders, a water quality committee of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) sent a nutrient rule proposal back for a fresh start and complete revision.  The proposal would have instituted stormwater programs, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and other environmental controls across much of North Carolina.
Led by the League, municipal stakeholders studied and offered suggestions for improving the rules for the past year.  The rule package presented to the EMC Water Quality Committee Wednesday did not contain most of these suggestions for improvement.  Capturing the sentiments expressed by many municipal stakeholders, one commissioner stated that this rule proposal was more frustrating than any other in the past five years.

Those comments led other members of the EMC, the state's leading environmental regulatory body, to question the scientific basis upon which the rule was based.  The rule would use data collected by the N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to determine whether a water body showed a trend toward impairment from nutrients, measured by exceedance of a chlorophyll-a "threshold" level.  If so, then the areas upstream from that water body would become regulated for stormwater controls, wastewater treatment effluent limitations, riparian buffer programs, and land application of biosolids practices.
In discussing the rule language shortcomings, commissioners also pointed out weaknesses in data, discussed the need for alternative solutions, and asked whether this rule package would actually result in lower costs to municipalities, as DWQ had argued.  Over the past year, the League has provided similar feedback to EMC commissioners and DWQ.
The committee voted to send the rules back to development with expectations of a wholesale re-write.  Committee members requested that the reconsideration process should:
  1. Explore alternatives
  2. Form a more clear statement of the underlying science
  3. Conduct a detailed review of costs and cost savings
  4. Consider basing the threshold on a parameter besides chlorophyll-a
  5. Consider other indicators of change in water quality circumstances.

EMC commissioners also addressed another major concern raised by the League: the lack of a stakeholder process in the rule development.  Commissioners stated that they expected the involvement of the municipal regulated community in future discussions of these rules.  The League will play an active role in those discussions.

For more information on this rulemaking, please contact Erin Wynia.

Posted on November 18, 2010 by Erin Wynia