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Washington Must Do P2: P2 in NPDES for the Oil Refinery Sector

Like saving energy instead of building a new power plant, pollution prevention and water conservation can be a very effective way to increase water treatment plant capacity. The best way to produce safe drinking water is to conserve it. Sectors characterized by large facilities can stress the capacity of privately and publicly owned wastewater treatment plants. Meanwhile, these facilities invariably raise the concerns of neighboring communities about production levels at these plants, groundwater quality, and whether all possible measures are being taken by the facilities and the agencies that regulate them to protect the quality of their environment and health of their families. The permit engineers in the State of Washington Department of Ecology's (DOE) National Water Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program recognized a major P2 opportunity when neighbors expressed their concerns during a public hearing for a permit renewal application by one of the state's five oil refineries. Backed by the State's water quality legislation, this staff looked upstream from the end of the pipe where national NPDES programs are traditionally focused and worked with refinery staff to identify relevant pollution prevention opportunities. The refinery retained control over the final P2 opportunity selections, and in 1998 those measures were included in the enforceable NPDES permit. With additional funding from the EPA (Pollution Prevention Incentives for States), they then worked to identify more "global" opportunities - promising P2 technologies that would be relevant to any oil refinery. This approach with the initial refinery, supplemented with the knowledge of global P2 opportunities throughout the sector, was then replicated in permits with the state's other four refineries. The last permit was completed in September 2001. This initiative received early essential support within the Water Quality program which funds the staffs' activities with permit fees. Once the decision was made to proceed, the entire agency consistently supported the project throughout challenges all the way to completion.

The most important tool that enabled the use of this approach is the State of Washington's Water Quality Statute that requires that facilities achieve AKART (all known, available, and reasonable methods of prevention, control, and treatment). AKART represents the most current methodology that can reasonably be required for preventing, controlling, or abating the pollutants associated with a discharge. The concept of AKART applies to both point and non-point sources of pollution. This statute enables permit writers to include P2 as an enforceable requirement of their NPDES permits. Hazardous waste P2 program staff assisted the permit writers in obtaining EPA funding and focusing the goals of the grant project. During early legal appeals by the first two facilities, the support of the Attorney General's office was crucial.

Positive Results

All five refineries are required to report environmental results periodically as a condition of their permit. It is early to make general statements about the collective environmental impact of this P2 in NPDES Sector approach but four reports are in so far. These reports are available to the public upon filing of an official public records request. Other unexpected benefits accrued to the facilities. When the appeals were denied and work was able to progress, the senior environmental managers at the facilities expressed that they had learned from the process and were appreciative of the actual results. A bottoms up, employee centered approach was used to identify and investigate appropriate P2 opportunities in at least one of the Washington refineries. In one example, an upstream tank was suggested and installed. The result included both a reduction in wastewater treatment plant upsets and elimination of foaming. The regulators were happy, and the wastewater treatment plant operators' jobs were made easier. Refinery employees were empowered through their involvement in the process.

Key Elements, Suggestions, and Challenges

This initiative was ground breaking in Washington and encountered some resistance. Unused to the NPDES permit writers being so deeply involved in their processes, the oil refineries were skeptical at the outset. They believed that the process would become yet another paperwork exercise, and that nothing environmentally beneficial would come of it. On their end, environmentalists also appealed because they were concerned that the end of pipe effluent guidelines were not stringent enough. With senior management backing and legal support from the Attorney General's office, the permit writers worked through the appeals process, and the Water Quality Hearings Board approved the permit. While the transaction costs were high for the first two permits, lessons learned about the process, the politics, the opportunities and the technology made the work on each subsequent permit progress more smoothly and as a result, these later permits were less costly.

More Information

Washington Water Quality Control ProgramExit EPA Disclaimer

Washington Water Pollution Control Law Exit EPA Disclaimer

Water Pollution Prevention Opportunities in Petroleum Refineries Exit EPA Disclaimer

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