Just as Jordon Peele is bringing back the haunts and chills of the off-kilter world of the Twilight Zone for Season 2, Massachusetts finds itself being unwittingly drawn deeper into another PFAS Zone rerun.
Without going through a formal public rule making process, MassDEP is once again digging into its regulatory grab-bag to impose unprecedented requirements on industrial actors and permittees in the Commonwealth. In recent draft surface water discharge permits MassDEP issued to Shire Human Genetic Therapies and Genzyme Corporation, MassDEP unilaterally imposed new PFAS monitoring obligations. Though the draft permits acknowledge that “Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards do not include numeric criteria for PFAS,” the Department cites 314 CMR 4.05(5)(e) for the “narrative” criteria that “[a]ll surface waters shall be free from pollutants in concentrations or combinations that are toxic to humans, aquatic life or wildlife.”
While the Department’s push to use its regulatory authority to address the prevalence of PFAS in the environment is understandable, using the Office of Research Standards’ Guidelines as a means to backdoor stringent effluent standards on NPDES permittees imposes burdens on individual industrial facilities without any benefit of public notice of a changed regulatory landscape. While Massachusetts Administrative Procedures Act, M.G.L. c. 30A, does not impose a formal requirement that MassDEP perform a full cost-benefit analysis before promulgating regulation, M.G.L. c. 30A, § 5 directs agencies to state the fiscal impact of the proposed regulation on the public and private section for the first and second year as well as the first five years. Rolling out new regulatory initiatives in permit renewals side-steps this requirement to disclose the direct expense of imposing stringent PFAS monitoring criteria on industrial facilities. It also limits a permittee’s time and ability to plan for capital allocations that might be necessary to address or abate otherwise permissible discharges.
Given the prevalence of PFAS and its pre-cursors in a great range of industrial applications, the likelihood that any specific discharge may exhibit some concentration of PFAS is extremely high. That the discharge levels can be mitigated or eliminated either through changed industrial processes or at the discharge point is unknown. Advancing regulatory programs in a public and orderly fashion, not only allows industry to understand what risks and costs they may face, it also spurs innovation in remedial technologies. In contrast, MassDEP’s ad hoc approach is going to cast permittees into a thicket of monitoring requirements and eventually noncompliance for exceedances that do not have proven cost-effective treatment alternatives at this scale. While the regulatory limits for surface water discharges have not been established, the only allowance the draft permits provide for terminating the monitoring requirement is four (4) consecutive quarterly samples being measured at the nano-gram per liter sensitivity “reported as non-detected for all six PFAS compounds.” That is an infinitesimally low bar that few facilities will be able to meet. The one immediate reprieve is the lack of a public EPA multi-lab validated method for testing wastewater.
During the Trump administration, environmental concerns have been given short-shrift at the federal level and inter-governmental cooperation is at a low ebb. Earlier this summer, Massachusetts submitted a public comment letter to EPA on the proposed 2020 Multi-Sector General Permit requesting that EPA add a requirement for annual PFAS monitoring for 13 industrial sectors regulated by the MSGP, which will likely be rebuffed as the two regulatory agencies struggle to find common ground on the administration of CWA NPDES permits. While MassDEP is probably correct to hedge its bet that EPA is not going to salute its proposal to include PFAS monitoring in the MSGP, the Department should not attempt to achieve the same aim by ambushing permittees seeking routine renewals.
The last time we wrote about MassDEP leading drinking water suppliers into the PFAS Zone of demanding remedial action despite a lack of formal regulatory standards was May 2019. In the intervening period, MassDEP slow-walked its MCP and MCL rulemaking process while publically stating that its other regulatory programs were going to have to wait for the Department to assess and determine the specific regulatory thresholds that were appropriate for those activities. Rather than foster the public dialogue that comes with proper administrative procedures and deliberate rule-making, MassDEP is imposing new permit conditions by fiat.
Under the Massachusetts Clean Water Act, M.G.L. c. 21, §§ 26-53, MassDEP has broad discretion to implement water quality regulations. As the SJC noted in Friends & Fishers of Edgartown Great Pond, Inc. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 446 Mass. 830, 838 (2006), “The statutory purpose of the Act, expressed through its text, makes it clear that the department has the discretion to create regulations that will best preserve and also restore the quality of our waters.” If MassDEP has science-based regulations it wants to promulgate regarding PFAS in surface water bodies, it should harness its internal expertise and publish its regulatory framework with proper technical support and weather the scrutiny of a proper administrative procedure. The regulation will likely be upheld under the Department’s broad discretion, but the rulemaking process will promote better dialogue among MassDEP and the regulated community while helping to foster strategies for achieving compliance rather than fear of enforcement.
Though we will have to wait on a formal opportunity to issue public comments on any proposed Surface Water Quality Standards, interested parties may comment on the two draft 401 certifications and State permits issued to Shire Human Genetic Therapies and Genzyme Corporation. The deadline is Thursday, August 13, 2020.
Written comments may to be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by regular mail to:
MassDEP Surface Water Discharge Program
Bureau of Water Resources
1 Winter Street – 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02108.
Mention Shire Human Genetic Therapies or Genzyme Corporation in the subject line of your email or the reference line of your letter.
If you want to discuss the implications of the development on your permits or collaborate on a comment letter, contact us at Mackie Shea Durning, PC.