Biosolids Legislation & Regulation 2015

In recent years, in this region, there has been little significant legislation related to biosolids. This year, there was more.  And several state regulatory changes that have been pending for some time are advancing in 2015.  For additional details, contact the NEBRA office.

Local control was the theme of several bills under consideration by state legislatures around the country.  Some local governments want to impose restrictions on biosolids use.  Such local control requirements have been in place in New Hampshire for some time.  But many states preempt local control.  

This year, in New York, opposition has hardened regarding land application of biosolids from renewable energy facilities (anaerobic digesters) in some western towns.  A few have placed local moratoria or bans on biosolids use.  Such local laws contradict state pre-emption, and quasar energy group is challenging the Wheatfield, NY ban in court (initial arguments scheduled for June 25th).  (The Town of Marilla sued quasar, a local farmer, and the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) last year; the ruling is due soon). 

In support of the towns' efforts, town officials and area members of the NY State Assembly were pushing legislation, AO6250, giving the town of Marilla local control, and some other bills negative to biosolids recycling.  While passage does not appear likely, NEBRA members and the NEBRA Reg/Leg Committee are concerned, as are state agencies that have encouraged resource recovery from biosolids (e.g. NY DEC and NYSERDA).  The NY State Farm Bureau is helping fight any anti-biosolids legislation; it included the following statement in its 2015 policy priorities: 

"We support the education of both farmers and the public on the benefits of using biosolids as a source of fertilizer, and using information provided [by] the Departments of Agriculture and Markets and Environmental Conservation. These agencies are the appropriate regulators for the use of this product and municipal prohibitions restricting the use of biosolids should not be allowed."  - New York Farm Bureau

Bills seeking local control of biosolids management also popped up in North Carolina (HB 61) and Tennessee (SB 1096 & HB 1131).  As in NY, they are not expected to pass. 

In the meantime, in Washington, state pre-emption of biosolids regulation was strongly upheld by a court decision that was backed by the state Supreme Court.

Maine legislating odors.  NEBRA also watched a bill in the Maine Legislature, LD 394 (HP 260), which would arbitrarily reduce the odor thresholds in the new solid waste odor regulations by 50%.  There could be repercussions for any biosolids management facility, which are the focus of the odor regulation.  At press time, the bill had had a committee hearing, but was not moving forward.

Banning Microbeads.  Another Maine bill, LD 85, was passed by the Legislature and became law without the Governor’s signature.  It states “A person may not, after December 31, 2017, manufacture for sale a personal care product, except for an over-the-counter drug, that contains synthetic plastic microbeads.”  Accepting such products for sale is banned as of December 31, 2018.  And over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads will be phased out by the end of 2019.   Vermont's house approved a similar ban on microbeads, and, at press time, it was under consideration in the Senate.

Molybdenum standards. NEBRA is collaborating with a variety of stakeholders to create a workshop in June in the Boston area regarding molybdenum (Mo) in biosolids.  This “MA Mo Workshop” will review the science and risk assessment for Mo in biosolids in comparison to current regulatory standards and encourage adoption of a more current, science-based standard in Massachusetts.  Details...

New Hampshire’s biosolids regulations.  This spring, NH DES announced formal rulemaking.  State law requires completion of a review and update of the “sludge” regulations (Env-Wq 800) this year.  DES has worked with stakeholders and has proposed significant changes.

Vermont’s biosolids program.  The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) leadership remains skeptical about biosolids use on soils, despite abundant information provided at a November 2013 workshop convened by DEC, a comprehensive evaluation of the scientific research conducted last year by DEC staff, the fact that almost every U. S. state supports biosolids use on soils and has active biosolids recycling programs, and the fact that DEC's own policies encourage recycling to soils with a stated goal of 75% recycling.  At the 2013 workshop, DEC leadership called for regulation updates, but nothing further has been announced. 

In the meantime, most of the Burlington area wastewater solids (which were being landfilled) have started going to the Casella Organics Grasslands facility in Chateaugay, NY, where they are lime stabilized to Class A standards and land applied on area farms.  Thus, although most are recycled outside of the state, Vermont’s biosolids recycling rate has climbed back up to ~70%.

Major Water Quality Legislation.  Vermont DEC’s languishing attention to biosolids is understandable.  In the water quality arena, the state has been overwhelmed for several years with negotiations with U. S. EPA on the Lake Champlain TMDL.  The wastewater treatment profession has been active in these negotiations and is being heard.  EPA has been threatening severely low phosphorus limits (0.2 mg/l or even 0.1 mg/l) for wastewater treatment facility permits in the watershed, all of which are up for renewal.  The wastewater treatment profession has emphasized the reality that, because they already contribute only 3% of the P entering the Lake, further reductions will cost a lot of money per pound of P removed.  But, for the state to avoid expensive wastewater treatment upgrades, it must demonstrate to EPA the ability to force reduction of P inputs from non-point sources.

This is the backdrop of the current water quality legislation, house bill 35 – a high priority.  The house overwhelmingly passed a version on April 2, 133 to 11.  By early May, it had passed through the Senate Natural Resources and Finance Committees.  The lengthy bill would require certification and fees for small farms and establish strict new management practices for manures and other sources of nutrients under the State agriculture department's Acceptable Agricultural Practices (AAP).  "Custom applicators" of nutrients (including biosolids) will be required to be certified.  The bill would also establish:

Best management practices (BMPs) to avoid agricultural runoff and reduce nutrient losses from tile drainage,
Procedures for enforcement and penalties,
Requirements and BMPs for developed lands and stormwater management,
Requirements and BMPs for silviculture,
A process to determine a system for assessing fees on parcels of property or impervious surface,
Increased fees (and some new fees) for various kinds of discharges and permits (e.g. stormwater discharges; land application site permit fees will increase from $950 - $1000),
New staff positions for implementation of the State water quality initiative, including implementation of the TMDL for Lake Champlain, and
Water quality data collection.

The Senate version creates a dedicated water quality fund to be managed by a special board.  A major source of the ~$8 million funding for these new water quality measures might be a new real estate transfer tax surcharge of 0.2 percent. 

Even though H. 35 imposes new fees and requirements on them, area farmers appear to be supportive of doing their part for water quality.  And the water quality profession – including wastewater treatment operators – are pleased to see a strong, comprehensive program to address the major sources of P runoff to surface waters.