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Federal Facilities and the Clean Water Act (CWA)

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the primary Federal statute regulating the protection of the nation's waters. Federal facilities have regulatory responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, including preventing water pollution, obtaining discharge permits, developing risk management plans, and maintaining records. Part of EPA's mission is to ensure that Federal facilities comply with these requirements.

Federal facilities that discharge pollutants from a point source to water are required to have permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Discharging facilities are required to monitor their discharges and to submit reports to EPA or state environmental agencies. Federal facilities may be required to have Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans if they have the potential to spill oil in navigable waters of the United States. An SPCC plan is a detailed, facility-specific, written description of how a facility will prevent a spill a respond if a spill occurs. SPCC plans must be clarified by a registered professional engineer.

Similarly to other federal environmental statues, Section 313 contains a national security exemption for federal facilities. If the President determines it is in “the paramount interests” of the US, s/he may exempt any federal discharge source from compliance with the CWA. The exemption can only be for one year, but additional one-year exemptions can be done based on the President making a new determination. The President must report to Congress each January on any exemptions made the prior calendar year and her/his reason for the exemption.

EPA Enforcement

Section 313 of the CWA provides that federal agencies are subject to and must comply with all Federal ,state, interstate and local requirements, administration authority, and powers and sanctions respecting the control and abetment of water pollution to the same extent as any non-governmental entity. The requirements of the CWA apply to “persons”. In contract to most other federal environmental laws, Section 1362 does not include a federal government organization as a “person” so EPA is legally unable to enforce the CWA against federal agencies.

To learn more, review the EPA's Federal Facilities Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement and compliance program documents.


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