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National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

NPDES Program Management and Oversight

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Permitting for Environmental Results (PER)

The Permitting for Environmental Results (PER) initiative was a multi-year effort by EPA and the states to improve the overall integrity and performance of the NPDES program. EPA collaborated with the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA) to develop and implement the PER strategy and to coordinate with state NPDES programs.

They designated a baseline assessment to gauge the effectiveness of each program and to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. The Permit and Program Quality Review (PQR) program was one result of this process.

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Permit and Program 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 representative sample of states' NPDES permits and evaluates the following:

  • permit language,
  • fact sheets,
  • calculations,
  • supporting documents in the administrative record, and
  • state permitting program initiatives.

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

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Backlog Reduction

Overview

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 generally "administratively continued." Permits administratively continued beyond their expiration date for 180 days or more are considered to be "backlogged." Where information is available, facilities awaiting their first NPDES permits for longer than 365 days after submitting an application are also considered part of the NPDES permit backlog.

Percent Current Goals

EPA tracks the number and percent of facilities covered by NPDES permits that are considered current (i.e., not “backlogged”) and sets goals with states and EPA regions to achieve of the national goal of 90% current. All major facilities and non-stormwater minor facilities and general permit covered facilities are included in this goal.

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Priority Permits Initiative

On March 4, 2004, EPA established the priority permits initiative under the PER program. The priority permits initiative’s purpose is to select priority permits from a pool of eligible expired permits and commit to finalizing (issuing or terminating) a certain percentage of them.[1]

The priority permits initiative is important for several reasons:

  • It is a measure for NPDES program performance reported as a budget measure to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Failure to achieve the OMB budget measure score could adversely affect state and EPA budgets.
  • It is reported as a measurement under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).
  • It ensures that states and regions are evaluating the most environmentally or programmatically significant of the “older” administratively continued permits and taking action on these permits.
Every year, the candidate priority permit lists are “opened” up for review. During this time, states and regions review candidate permits and develop new commitments for the coming fiscal year.

Permits Eligible for Priority Permit Selection

The candidate permits open to selection as priority are individual permits that have been expired for two or more years at the start of the fiscal year. While general permits and permits less than two years expired are not included in the candidate list, a state or region may request that they be added after making appropriate selections from their candidate list as described below.

EPA Expectations for Priority Permits Selection

States and regions must select 20% of their candidates as priority and commit to finalizing approximately 80% of these selected priority permits. In some cases, these percentages may be different as approved by the Water Permits Division (WPD) Director. A state or region may include additional permits at its discretion. However, to maintain the integrity of the priority permits initiative, we ask that permits be selected for environmentally significant or state/national program priority reasons. Identify a reason for the selection of a priority permit at the time of selection.

The reasons that will be available for selection of priority permits are:

  1. National program priority, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)
  2. Significant changes to facility’s operations
  3. National program priority, Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)
  4. Discharge to drinking water resources
  5. Revised effluent limitations guidelines
  6. Protection of an endangered species
  7. Environmental justice
  8. Facility located on priority watershed
  9. Permit is more than 10 years expired
  10. Discharge to an impaired water body (i.e., water body on 303(d) list)
  11. Implementation of a waste load allocation (WLA) from a total maximum daily load (TMDL)
  12. Revised water quality standards
  13. New significant discharger with environmental significance (must also select a reason from the above list indicating such significance)
  14. If “Other” is selected, an explanation/description must also be provided.

[1] Note, there are actually four measures reported - two measures for OMB budget measures and two measure for GPRA. Both sets consist of State-only issued permits and State and EPA-issued permits. The National goal for these measures is 80% issuance for FY15.

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