National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) is recognized as the primary federal law regulating water pollution in the United States. The purpose of the CWA is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the waters protected under the Act. 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a). To achieve this goal, the CWA prohibits any unpermitted direct discharge of pollutants into protected waterbodies. Anyone who discharges a pollutant into a protected waterbody without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit is in violation of the CWA and could face steep monetary penalties.
Although NPDES permits are part of the federal CWA which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), states are largely responsible for issuing NPDES permits. Under the CWA, states may seek authorization from EPA to administer the NPDES program within their jurisdictions. To do so, a state must submit a variety of items to EPA, including a letter from the Governor requesting authorization, a Memorandum of Agreement that will serve as the primary agreement between EPA and the state on how to implement the NPDES program, a description of the program, a statement of legal authority, and any relevant underlying state laws and regulations. After a state submits its request for authorization, EPA has 90 days to review the request before making its decision. EPA may either approve the request and grant the state authorization, or EPA can refuse the state’s request and remain in charge of the NPDES program for that state. To see the Memorandums of Agreement between EPA and states with NPDES authority, click here.
If EPA decides to grant a state NPDES permitting authority, it may grant the state authority over one or more of the NPDES program components. Those components include the state NPDES permit program, the regulation of federal facilities, the state pretreatment program, the general permits program, and the biosolids (sludge) program. The chart below shows which components of the NPDES program that each state has been authorized to carry out, the agency responsible for administering the NPDES program in each state, and the laws supporting each state’s NPDES authority. Some states have supported their NPDES authority through a single provision of their environmental code, while others have adopted entire acts to implement the permit program.
This compilation was last updated September 6, 2022.