Issue: Rumor has it EPA may allow some fleets to opt out of the federal stormwater permitting program this fall. Will you be one of the lucky ones?

Some fleets will be in for a pleasant surprise when Phase II of EPA's stormwater runoff rules are released this fall. The latest part of the stormwater runoff regulation is expected to contain a "No-Exposure Certification" (NEC) category that will correct some of the inconsistencies found in Phase I, including letting fleets that don't have contaminated runoff opt out of the permit program altogether.

Because of the way Phase I rules were written, many fleets fell under the bureaucracy of the stormwater rules even though their maintenance operations were conducted completely indoors and presented no threat to stormwater run-on and runoff. In terms of permits, these fleets were treated the same as those that did all their maintenance out in the yard.

Here's how No-Exposure Certification works. If a facility can demonstrate that run-on and runoff are not exposed to industrial activities, it can opt out of a stormwater permit for the lifespan of the permit or until operational changes make it ineligible for NEC.

The draft version of NEC is a relatively simple form with about 18 questions concerning significant spills and leaks, maintenance, and fueling, for example. If a facility operator can answer all the questions appropriately, then the facility may be eligible to operate under NEC. (NEC is usually good for five years.)

Although everyone won't qualify, if the final rule is similar to the draft, a substantial number of fleets should be eligible for NEC. If you want to increase your chances of getting this certification, start looking at your operations now to determine areas that need to be cleaned up or improved.

Here are some of the areas you should take a look at:

*Fueling islands. Cover them up so they're protected from rain and snow. If they're situated so that rain water runs across the island and carries drips and spills away to the storm sewer or open environment, that run-on/ runoff will have to be stopped or diverted. You might want to consider installing low drive-over berms to divert run-on around the fuel islands, or dedicated drop inlets that carry the fuel-laden waters to the sanitary sewer.

*Maintenance. Conduct all maintenance activities indoors, including vehicle washing.

*Parts and materials. Batteries, tires, and scrap metals should be moved indoors or covered by awnings or temporary covers until they can be moved. Wrecked trucks, which could be leaking, won't be allowed to remain uncovered onsite, where they might be exposed to precipitation. Exposed engines should also be covered, and all leaking fluids contained.

Even if your fleet is not currently operating under a stormwater permit, NEC could still be a lifesaver. Since Phase II of the stormwater program is designed to burden small municipalities with stormwater controls and goals, many localities will now have to pass regulations affecting upstream, industrial users.

If you're eligible for NEC, you may be able to opt out of these municipal stormwater programs as well - or at least be better prepared to deal with new permits. Not to mention the fact that last month EPA started writing the third-generation Multi-Sector General Permit. When all is said and done, the new version of the permit program might include facilities and industrial subsectors that are not currently covered.

When NEC and Phase II are finalized as regulations in October, they will go into effect immediately in states where EPA runs the stormwater program. States that run their own programs will also honor NEC. In fact, Virginia has already started to issue NEC applications, along with their applications for the next generation of their state stormwater permit. So get ready - the future of stormwater "non-permitting" is here!