NPDES Permitting and Earth Disturbance Activities: What You Need to Know About PAG-02

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reissued the PAG-02 General Permit effective December 8, 2019. As some of you may know already, construction activities with earth disturbances greater than or equal to one acre require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage. PAG-02 NPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Construction Activities provides coverage for persons disturbing one or more acres.

Clarifications to Eligibility Criteria for Stormwater Discharges

The reissued PAG-02 clarifies the eligibility criteria for stormwater discharges to impaired waters. These eligibility criteria do not require additional action by an existing permittee unless the permittee proposes additional earth disturbance that warrants a major amendment to general permit coverage.

The permittee will need to implement non-discharge alternatives or Antidegradation Best Available Combination of Technologies (ABACT) best management practices (BMPs) only if a major amendment to coverage is necessary for additional earth disturbance for project sites with stormwater discharges to surface waters that are:

  1. Impaired for siltation, suspended solids, turbidity, water/flow variability, flow modifications/alterations, or nutrients.
  2. Covered by an EPA-approved or EPA-established Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), including discharges to waters tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, which include the following pollutants: siltation, suspended solids, or nutrients.

New Permit Expiration

Whereas prior authorizations were valid for five years from the effective date of coverage, the statewide PAG-02 general permit will now expire on December 7, 2024. This new expiration date may introduce uncertainty for projects that receive approval in the months leading up to the end of 2024 – furthermore this uncertainty applies to all permits because the 12/7/2024 expiration date will affect all permits not just statewide general permits.

Permit Extensions

If you have an existing PAG-02 general permit and plan to continue discharging after your coverage expiration date then, at least 180 days prior to the expiration date, you must submit either:

  • a Notice of Intent (NOI) to renew your coverage or
  • an application for an individual NPDES permit

If DEP/CCD approves your renewal NOI, the expiration date of renewed coverage will be December 7, 2024.

This is a major change. In the past, a permittee’s coverage under PAG-02 would automatically continue under the reissued general permit. This is no longer the case under the 2019 General Permit. Closer to the date, DEP will provide further information on the method(s) by which coverage will be extended beyond December 7, 2024.  Also, given the numerous rule changes, DEP and/or the local county conservation districts may find that a general permit is no longer applicable to the site, and require an Individual permit.

Permit Implementation and Training

The 2019 General Permit includes new requirements to ensure that on-site personnel are aware of their responsibilities. The permittee and co-permittees must ensure that all site personnel understand the requirements of the General Permit if they are responsible for:

  1. Installation, maintenance, and repair of erosion and sediment control (E&S) and post-construction stormwater management (PCSM) BMPs
  2. Implementation of the Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency (PPC) Plan
  3. Application and storage of treatment chemicals
  4. Conducting inspections
  5. Taking corrective actions.

The permittee must:

  1. Maintain an on-site log of all individuals who were informed of the relevant parts of the General Permit
  2. Make this log available if requested by DEP/CCD
  3. Keep the associated plans on-site for review.

Site Inspections

The 2019 General Permit specifies that the Visual Site Inspection Report (3800-FM-BCW0271d) must be used to document visual site inspections for measurable rainfall of 0.25 inch, which triggers a post-storm inspection.  The General Permit previously did not define a rainfall threshold for these inspections. 

The 2019 General Permit also requires visual site inspections in response to observed deficiencies with E&S and/or PCSM Plan implementation (i.e., corrective action inspections). Note that use of the Visual Site Inspection Report, or equivalent, must be implemented immediately.

Water Quality Analysis and Soil Contamination

DEP is implementing a new procedure for the water quality analysis as contained in the PCSM Spreadsheet and explained in the related instructions. Submission of the Quality Worksheet of the PCSM Spreadsheet is required with PAG-02 NOIs and individual permit applications.

Under the 2017 General Permit, if the potential existed for toxic or hazardous pollutants in stormwater to be discharged from the site during construction, the applicant was not eligible for coverage. The issue typically arose in the context of known contaminated soils. The 2019 PAG-02 NOI Instructions clarify the criteria concerning soil contamination by specifying that if medium-specific concentrations in 25 Pa. Code Chapter 250 are exceeded, the project is not eligible unless a site-specific cleanup standard has been met under Act 2 or other program or evidence of naturally occurring soil contamination or widespread atmospheric deposition is provided.

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For over 30 years, the BAI Group has provided technical consulting services to private and public entities typically involved with environmental development projects. The services we traditionally provide our clients include studies, designs, permit applications, construction management/CQA along with other compliance monitoring and reporting activities. Our experts have substantial experience associated with navigating the navigating the environmental permitting process for issues related to water, land and air issues. Contact us today.