EPA Scrutinizes Deicing

Environmental attorney reviews EPA's initiative.


Effluent Guidelines

Because of the extremely variable nature of deicing operations and controls (not to mention the history of inconsistent enforcement), EPA some years ago indicated it would take the necessary regulatory steps to implement federal regulations known as Effluent Limitation Guidelines for deicing activities. ELGs set nationwide technology-based standards for specific industrial categories, of which airports are by EPA regulation one distinct category. (EPA has already developed and promulgated ELGs for more than 50 other industries.) Upon completion, the ELG rule may specify discharge level targets; or specific numeric limits that must be incorporated into any state or federal NPDES permit; or it could identify the technologies it believes are the most effective and viable to control or treat deicing runoff, in which case facilities will have to choose to use those technologies or demonstrate others that are equally effective.

The ELG Questionnaire

Within the last year EPA has conducted site visits to gather background information for its ELG process, but the sample represents only a small fraction of airports that conduct deicing activities. As its main source for developing the ELGs, EPA is using the questionnaire that it has now sent to airports and air carriers.

Answering the questionnaire is not optional; it is essentially equivalent to an administrative subpoena; failure to respond on time or to comply with the instructions may result in criminal fines, civil penalties, or other sanctions. As is the case with most information submitted in response to a government request, airports and air carriers are required to certify their responses — an official with the requisite level of knowledge and authority within the organization swears under penalty of perjury that the answers are true and the information in the response was obtained by qualified personnel.

EPA says it is targeting a representative statistical sample, and in fact, questionnaires were sent to some airports that probably do no deicing whatsoever. Those airports can simply report that they do no deicing or anti-icing. Airports and air carriers which do conduct deicing or anti-icing have had to answer detailed questions on:

  • deicing stormwater collection and treatment systems used;
  • stormwater pollutant monitoring, sampling, and analytical data;
  • airfield and aircraft deicing operations and chemical usage;
  • stormwater pollution prevention programs and management practices;
  • detailed financial information for airport or air carrier operations.

As press time, most airports had either submitted their completed questionnaires or requested extensions, while air carriers were working on theirs. Respondents had 60 days to complete the answers — not generous, considering EPA estimates it will take an average 175 hours for an airport and 21 hours for an air carrier to complete. Depending on how readily information is available, the estimate may be fairly accurate or grossly understated.

Any facility not tracking this ELG process, or that has not aggressively attempted to quantify and control the intersection of stormwater and deicing chemicals, or that has not obtained an NPDES permit, may have had an easier time answering the questionnaire, but will eventually be subject to implementing whatever technologies EPA chooses from the information it obtains from the more proactive facilities.

Then What Happens?

EPA's original goal was to publish a proposed ELG rule in 2006; it now says it will issue a draft for comment by December 2007, and issue a final rule by September 2009. Airports and airlines familiar with the difficulty in planning, funding, and construction of deicing control infrastructure are keenly aware this is not much time.

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