On Jan. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it is seeking input regarding the development of Meat and Poultry Products (“MPP”) Effluent Limitations Guidelines Rulemaking Revision.
As part of this process the EPA seeks to put together a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel. The EPA is looking to gather comments and suggestions from small entity representatives. Changes to these rules would, per the EPA, impact at least some of the thousands of meat and poultry facilities throughout the United States. The goal of the EPA in implementing the changes is to reduce nutrient discharges into water.
The MMP guidelines and standards were first developed by the EPA in 1974 and are found at 40 CFR Part 432. The last amendments were passed in 2004. These guidelines are important because they are designed to reduce wastewater discharges to surface waters of the United States. The regulations apply to discharges of wastewater from any company “engaged in slaughtering, dressing, and packing of meat and poultry products for human consumption and/or animal food and feeds.” (40 CFR §432.1)
The EPA announced in Sept. 2021 that it had completed a study regarding the 2004 MMP category and determined that the 2004 regulation only applies to approximately 300 of the 7,000 MPP facilities in the United States. The EPA also determined that MPP facilities discharge the highest levels of phosphorus and the second highest levels of nitrogen out of all industrial categories studied. The MPP facilities negatively impact publicly owned treatment works that receive MPP wastewater through indirect discharges. However, the EPA also determined that there exists today affordable technologies which can effectively reduce these nutrients in wastewater. These technologies are already being used by many in the MPP industry that are subject to the current guidelines.
Both phosphorus and nitrogen are critical nutrients for aquatic life. These nutrients support plant and algae growth, which in turn provides vital food and habitat for fish, shellfish, and other organisms that live in the water. However, too much of these nutrients in waterways can lead to increased algae growth, large plant growth which reduces levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, and potentially dangerous algae blooms that produce toxins harmful to both people and animals.
The current guidelines only apply to wastewater that is directly discharged by slaughterhouses, further processers, independent renderers, and poultry processers. The guidelines do not provide pre-treatment standards for any of these facilities that are indirectly discharging process wastewater. The rulemaking process by the EPA is expected to address these deficiencies in the current regulations by expanding the types of business covered by the limitation guidelines and putting into place additional wastewater treatment requirements for facilities that engage in indirect discharge to publicly owned treatment works. These additional wastewater treatments would require treatment of the wastewater before it is sent to public treatment facilities.
The review panel announced yesterday is but a part of the EPA’s analysis of potential new guidelines. The EPA has already administered questionnaires to MPP facilities. These questionnaires are now available and all MPP facilities are required to respond. With the addition of the review panel, the EPA’s stated goal is to “…hear directly from small entities that may be impacted by the rulemaking, as we work to protect communities across the country from the harmful effects of excess nutrients.” Small-business representatives can self-nominate if they are from entities which may be impacted by the new regulations. The panel is also expected to include representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, and the EPA. Small businesses that process meat and poultry products should become involved in this process, and make certain they are informed of any changes to these regulations as their obligations to reduce nutrients will likely be increased through this process.