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National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

NPDES Program Management and Oversight

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Program and Permit Quality Review (PQR)

EPA uses the PQR process to assess whether NPDES permits meet the applicable requirements in the Clean Water Act (CWA) and environmental regulations. During each PQR, EPA reviews a sample of states' NPDES permits to reflect a cross section of a state’s permitting authority. EPA Headquarters will also review permits issued by EPA regional offices for states without NPDES authorization and other areas where EPA regional offices issue NPDES permits. These reviews evaluate the following:

  • permit language,
  • fact sheets (documents explaining the rationale for permit conditions),
  • calculations,
  • supporting documents in the administrative record, and
  • state permitting program initiatives.

Through this review mechanism, EPA promotes national consistency and identifies successes and opportunities to improve NPDES permit programs.

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Permit Backlog Reduction Efforts

Under the CWA, EPA and states with authorized NPDES programs issue NPDES permits with terms no longer than five years. Permittees that wish to continue discharging beyond the five-year term must submit a complete application for permit renewal at least 180 days prior to the expiration date of their permit. If the permitting authority receives a complete application but does not reissue the permit prior to the expiration date, the existing permit is "administratively continued." The NPDES regulations also say that any person proposing a new discharge shall submit an application at least 180 days before the date on which the discharge is to commence.

EPA’s FY 2018-FY 2022 Strategic Plan Objective 3.4 focuses on streamlining and modernizing EPA programs, including issuing permits more quickly. EPA is committed to speeding up the processing of EPA-issued permits and permit modifications to provide greater certainty to the business community and to ensure that permits improve environmental protection by reflecting the most recent scientific information. The Strategic Plan includes the goal of reaching all permitting-related decisions within six months where EPA directly implements permitting programs. The Agency is employing business process improvement strategies, such as Lean, to increase efficiencies in permitting processes and meet these commitments.

As EPA works to meet this Strategic Plan goal, its permitting programs are tracking data on EPA’s individual permit backlog. Applications for new permits are considered backlogged if not issued or denied within 180 days of receipt of the application. Existing permits are considered backlogged if the permitting authority receives an application but does not reissue the permit prior to the expiration date. EPA also tracks the average number of days it takes to approve or deny requests for coverage under EPA’s NPDES General Permits.

Although EPA’s backlog reduction initiative is currently focused on EPA-issued permits, the Agency is also assessing how it can assist NPDES-authorized states with timely issuance of their NPDES permits.

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