EPA Launches Online Permit Program

Beginning Dec. 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require builders to submit their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program information online, replacing the current paper-based reporting system.

This rule does not require online submission of Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans, or SWPPPs. It does, however, apply to forms such as the Notice of Intent for coverage, Notice of Termination and Low Erosivity Waivers.

NAHB has long supported EPA’s effort to develop an online reporting rule. “Since permit coverage is usually expedited when done electronically, we are hopeful that bringing clean water reporting out of the Dark Ages will save builders time and money,” said NAHB Environmental Issues Committee chair Geep Moore. “However, there is still work to be done to ensure that certain types of sensitive data are handled correctly and efficiently.”

In its comments to EPA, NAHB voiced concern that, under this rule, builders might have to “double report:” submit online to EPA while still submitting paper forms to a state regulator if their state failed to meet strict electronic reporting implementation deadlines.

The final rule promises to solve this problem by allowing states to not require any additional forms from builders until its online reporting process is working. So this “switching” of whom to report to doesn’t cause confusion for permitees, EPA will seek to ensure that, regardless of whether EPA or the state is supporting the database, builders will still report their information via familiar state Web portals.

NAHB also convinced EPA to give states five years, rather than only two, to get their online permit collection systems up and running.

Where Reporting is a Problem

NAHB was also concerned about builders working in rural areas where Internet access is often spotty at best. Under EPA’s original proposal, temporary waivers for such issues would be available for only one year at a time. In the final rule, EPA now allows each state or authorized NPDES program to extend the maximum waiver time to five years: another NAHB victory for members.

Stakeholders also voiced concern over requiring builders to use expensive authentication software to submit certified electronic signatures on compliance documents. (A signature is required by law.)

Under the final rule, construction site operators can either submit a certified electronic signature or submit all paperwork electronically without a certified electronic signature, as long as they also send a signed hard copy of electronic forms.

Moving to online permits means an increased potential for false or incomplete enforcement data to be published and released via public websites: a security and confidentiality issue raised by NAHB on behalf of its members. NAHB will work closely with states to ensure that builders and developers have ample opportunity to address potential misrepresentations of data, and that clear systems allow permittees to expediently address any reporting errors.