Regulatory updates: VT, NH, ME, MA, CT
NEBRA has been busy monitoring and commenting on legislation and proposed regulations in northern New England. In particular, like last year, states are trying to figure out how to address perfluorinated compounds (PFAS like PFOA and PFOS) in drinking, ground-, and surface waters – and those deliberations are NEBRA’s focus area, because of the potential for over-reaching actions to negatively impact biosolids and residuals recycling programs. Jeff McBurnie (Casella Organics), as Chair of the Reg/Leg Committee, continues to help lead NEBRA's efforts.
Biosolids coordinators Ernie Kelley (retired, but still working for DEC short-term) and Eamon Twohig continue to facilitate a biosolids regulation advisory group, through which they have engaged in substantive exchange of information and understanding with key staff in the agriculture department. One resulting benefit is that biosolids best management practices are becoming more consistent with the new required agricultural practices (RAPs) that the agriculture department has been developing to address P, in particular, under Act 64. However, additional exchange of information is needed to address ever-present questions of some stakeholders regarding the common biosolids topics of interest: metals, chemicals, pathogens – despite the extensive literature review that Kelley and Twohig have provided. Wastewater and biosolids management representatives to the advisory group are uncertain about progress, given lingering biosolids skepticism on the part of some and the fact that DEC and other stakeholders are absorbed in two other topics of interest: phosphorus (Act 64) and PFAS in drinking water.
There has been one significant area of progress: H. 211, a bill written by long-time biosolids and septage skeptic James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International (and 2018 candidate for Governor), which was introduced in 2017, is apparently dead. It will not be addressed by the House Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources Committee to which it was assigned. There was one hearing on it last year, at which biosolids stakeholders explained that the bill’s proposed ban on biosolids and septage land application would have many unintended consequences – including affecting the viability of an important paper mill in Committee Chair David Deen’s home district. In January, Kelley and Twohig of DEC, and Bob Fischer of GMWEA, provided additional information to the Committee on the importance of biosolids management options – including recycling (see DEC’s presentation, here). In response, notes Fischer, “Rep. Deen said ‘we get it on the biosolids; you have no need to come back next year and tell us about biosolids again, please.’ So it sounds somewhat hopeful.”
Meanwhile, the latest VT DEC data shows landfill disposal of biosolids has declined since the high of 76% in 2013 (with just 22% recycled that year). In 2014, the Burlington region’s solids began to be processed at the Casella Organics’ Grasslands EQ alkaline treatment facility in upstate New York, increasing the EQ recycling rate:
Total mass (dry tons) Landfill disposal EQ Class B land application
2014 9,887 49% 40% 10%
2015 10,061 38% 50% 10%
2016 11,109 41% 46% 12%
Vermont legislators are also considering bills that would remove some of the requirements – and weaken – the state’s universal recycling law, which was originally intended to aggressively implement a ban on landfilling of all organics in the next few years. The fate of these bills is uncertain.
The dozen PFAS bills introduced in the NH legislature in 2017 and 2018 are being culled to one or two reasonable bills, thanks to extensive work by NH DES and a coalition of concerned water quality organizations (NHWPCA, NHWWA, Granite State Rural Water, and NEBRA), the NH Municipal Association, and the Business and Industry Association of NH that see the many unintended significant consequences of some of the bills. Committees have voted many of the bills “inexpedient to legislate” and have coalesced around supporting HB 1101, amendment 0334, which provides NH DES with tools to address air emissions of PFAS that affect groundwater, as well as directives to set groundwater and other standards for PFAS, based on sound science, in the near future. The Senate seems to be coalescing support around SB 309. NEBRA is concerned that unrealistically strict, arbitrary standards for PFAS in waters will impact biosolids and residuals recycling programs; NEBRA testimony is available under the “NEBRA Publications” link on the home page.
And the U. S. Composting Council provided this update on the NH compost facility regulation work group: “The requirements when originally written were derived from biosolids rules and need to be broadened. The USCC’s Model Compost Rule is being used as a tool to focus discussion. State regulators expect a document next fall at the earliest.”
In Maine, in January, DEP finalized revised Chapter 418 regulations under the solid waste program. They include an Appendix A that lists screening levels for contaminants of concern that, indirectly, might apply to land applied residuals and biosolids. NEBRA and others (e.g. Jeff McBurnie of Casella Organics) commented on the regulation draft, resulting in adjustments to the screening levels set for the three PFAS chemicals included in Appendix A. However, NEBRA continues to object to any state setting screening or regulatory limits for PFAS chemicals in residuals / biosolids at this time, because there are inadequate data to do so. On February 14th, NEBRA testified at the public hearing before the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which must approve the revised Chapter 418 regulations as a final step in their promulgation. Contact the NEBRA office for details and copies of our testimony. (Members may access more at https://www.nebiosolids.org/pfas-residuals).
The Plant Nutrient Regulations of the MA Department of Agricultural Resources have been formally updated. The second promulgated version became effective in January, replacing the original version adopted in 2015. NEBRA, MA Farm Bureau, and other stakeholders had provided extensive comments regarding confusing language and other problems with the earlier versions of the regulations. The new 2018 version has some improvements, but remains challenging, especially with regards to how biosolids and residuals fit into the regulation. UMass Extension guidance is cited by the regulation, but none of the available guidance addresses biosolids and other residuals to any significant extent. NEBRA’s Reg/Leg and Research Committees are working on two efforts to address the regulation: 1) possible research or demonstration on the dynamics of P in biosolids, composts, and other residuals, and 2) development of professional best management practices (BMPs) related to managing P applied to soils in organic residuals. According to the updated regulations, such BMPs can be relied on in the absence of guidance by UMass Extension. Contact the NEBRA office for details and to help.
Biosolids management in CT relies almost exclusively on incineration, which has served well for decades. CT DEEP has no regulations pertaining to biosolids recycling, although it regulates – and restricts – use of biosolids compost produced by the Fairfield WRRF. In January, Jay Sheehan (Woodard and Curran) reported to the NEWEA Government Affairs Committee that he and other wastewater and residuals stakeholders have initiated discussions, in part through the state wastewater associations, about the possibility of introducing legislation to define biosolids and initiate the development of regulations to support the recycling option.