The Environmental Protection Agency this week announced a proposed rule that would revise its wastewater standards for meat and poultry processing facilities.

The proposed regulation laid out three possible options for the agency to move forward with more stringent standards.

“EPA is considering a range of options in this rulemaking,” the proposed rule’s executive summary reads. “The options include more stringent effluent limitations on total nitrogen, new effluent limitations on total phosphorus, updated effluent limitations for other pollutants, new pretreatment standards for indirect dischargers, and revised production thresholds for some of the subcategories in the existing rule.”

“The proposed rule contains three options,” EPA said. “For existing direct dischargers, EPA’s preferred option would establish more stringent effluent limitations for nitrogen and, for the first time, limitations for phosphorus. The preferred option would also establish, for the first time, pretreatment standards for oil and grease, total suspended solids, and biochemical oxygen demand. The preferred regulatory option would apply to approximately 850 of the 5,000 MPP facilities nationwide.”

The proposal contains two additional options on which EPA is requesting public comment. These options would apply effluent limitations to additional direct and indirect dischargers. The two additional options would also establish pretreatment standards for nitrogen and phosphorus for some of the indirect discharging facilities included in the EPA’s preferred option.

EPA predicts that its preferred option will cost $232 million annually in “societal costs.” “Not all costs and benefits can be fully quantified and monetized,” EPA said, “and importantly, EPA anticipates the proposed rule would also generate important unquantified benefits (e.g., improved habitat conditions for plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and the wildlife that prey on aquatic organisms).” EPA did not contemplate the costs that it believes cannot be quantified or monetized, like it did to potential benefits.

EPA first proposed regulations regarding wastewater treatment and discharge for meat and poultry processing facilities in 1974 and amended the regulation in 2004. The current regulations only apply to direct dischargers – something EPA is trying to change in the currently proposed rule.

EPA also announced two public hearings about the proposed rule – on January 24, 2024, and January 31, 2024.

Further information can be found on EPA’s website here and the proposed rule can be found here.