Air Permitting Problems and Solutions
EPA should address air permitting gridlock by reducing the number of projects that trigger New Source Review (NSR) and using more realistic modeling assumptions and tools for those projects subject to Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD).
Every five years, EPA must decide whether the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are sufficiently protective of public health. EPA has systematically tightened the NAAQS for particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone over the last decade. Traditionally, the focus of the program has been on states developing plans to slowly improve air quality in non-attainment areas (usually cities) to meet the NAAQS. However, since the NAAQS are effective immediately, facilities contemplating major expansions or modifications that trigger a permitting review must demonstrate that emissions from the plant, when combined with background air quality, do not exceed the applicable NAAQS standard in order to obtain a permit. Many projects get classified as major modifications discouraging efficiency improvements when in reality the projects either reduce emissions or are relatively minor.
The air permitting and regulatory requirements are out of date, rigid and time-consuming and result in unnecessary delays for business growth. With NAAQS having dropped closer to background levels, it is becoming more difficult to “pass the test” and get an approved permit. To prevent further ratcheting, EPA should not lower standards further until current standards are fully implemented as air quality will continue to improve under current programs.
The inability to permit a project hurts the competitiveness of the facility, harms product development and innovation and can thwart environmentally-beneficial projects. Local communities will miss out on new jobs and economic growth, while industry sectors face the risk of becoming uncompetitive in the global marketplace of forest products.
New Permitting Policies Could Help Alleviate the Problem:
EPA needs to access how it can reduce the number of projects that need to go through the six to 18 month New Source Review (NSR) process. A better emissions accounting system for projects would allow mills to proceed with investments while continuing to improve air quality from efficiency gains. Once subject to the burdensome modeling program, a lack of (or inappropriate) emission measurement methods, poor estimates of emissions, use of unrealistic air dispersion models and several rigid permitting policies lead to projects dying on the vine. AF&PA has provided the EPA with several suggestions, including lowering fugitive PM emissions, acknowledging limited emissions from intermittent sources and using more realistic receptor locations. Finally, EPA should reestablish its partnership with states and give them primacy in running the permitting program to advance new approaches that can streamline the process and eliminate unnecessary project reviews.