Environment & Energy Report

EPA Proceeds With Easing Clean Air Act Permit Program (1)

Oct. 17, 2018, 1:42 PMUpdated: Oct. 17, 2018, 3:43 PM

Companies have a bit longer to wait before the EPA makes it easier for them to expand plants or construct new additions without needing Clean Air Act permits.

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed by five months the dates for when it will release changes to the Clean Air Act permitting program for construction and expansion known as New Source Review program.

The EPA will release a proposal (RIN:2060-AT89) in February to revise how large industrial sources such as power plants and refineries calculate changes in their emissions that might trigger requirements that they install new air pollution controls, according to the agency’s fall regulatory agenda released Oct. 17. The proposal was initially due out in September.

The agency also plans to issue a reconsideration (RIN: 2060-AP80) this month of a Bush-era rule that would have allowed factories, refineries, and power plants to combine emissions increases from separate—yet related—projects for permitting purposes. The 2009 rule was halted in its tracks by the Obama administration. If the 2009 rule is adopted after reconsideration, industrial facilities will find it easier to get a single Clean Air Act permit for multiple projects instead of having to undergo multiple reviews.

New Source Review

Both these rules are much awaited by the industrial and power generation sectors. Companies in those sectors said the existing New Source Review permitting program was a barrier to expansion and left no room for flexibility and innovation. The program requires new or expanding facilities to install updated pollution controls to avoid increasing their emissions.

Representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips met with White House officials Aug. 21 to urge adoption of the rule that would allow companies to bundle emissions increases from projects carried out within a three-year span.

Environmental groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center oppose any attempts by businesses to avoid installing the pollution controls. Environmentalists say changing the way emissions increases are calculated would allow companies to spew more pollution under the guise of updates to make their operations more efficient.

The EPA already has issued a series of guidance documents for facilities to tally the emissions that trigger new pollution control requirements under the air pollution permitting program. The agency also has included a provision to calculate emissions increases in its rewrite of the Obama-era rule to regulate greenhouse gases.

A rulemaking would take the guidance document through notice and comment, Richard Alonso, a Sidley Austin LLP attorney, told Bloomberg Environment.

“This would make it difficult for another administration to change the project emission accounting approach,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com