Water Pollution

Application of National Cleanup Standards to the Pulp and Paper Industry Gao ID: RCED-87-52 March 18, 1987

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) national effluent standards limiting the types and amounts of pollutants that industries may discharge into the nation's water. GAO used the paper and pulp industry as an example to determine whether: (1) discharge permit limits were at least as stringent as the appropriate national standards required; and (2) the amount of pollutants in selected pulp and paper mills' effluent met the appropriate national standards.

GAO found that: (1) the vast majority of the 193 major effluent-discharging pulp and paper mills held permits whose limits were at least as stringent as national standards required; and (2) mills in five major pulp-and-paper-producing areas were generally discharging the two key nontoxic pollutants for the industry at levels in line with permit limits. However, GAO found problems with the way in which permitting authorities set limits because they could result in discharges of more pollutants than the national standards allowed, since: (1) mill production figures available in setting some permit limits did not include 5-year historical production figures; and (2) permit writers were not consistently applying more stringent new-source standards to some expansions of existing pulp and paper mills. GAO also found that the water pollution program changed in recent years because: (1) individual states became the driving force in setting cleanup levels for the pulp and paper industry by setting permit levels and dealing with site-specific water pollution problems; and (2) the second-stage standards EPA set for nationwide application were no more stringent than the first-stage standards because EPA determined that the cost of meeting the more stringent standards was not reasonable for the pulp and paper industry.


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