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Greenhouse Gas Permitting Requirements Focus on Largest Emitters

By Mark S. Kuhar

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will not revise greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting thresholds under the Clean Air Act. Its final rule is part of EPA’s common-sense, phased-in approach to GHG permitting under the Clean Air Act, announced in 2010 and recently upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The final rule maintains a focus on the nation’s largest emitters that account for nearly 70 percent of the total GHG pollution from stationary sources, while shielding smaller emitters from permitting requirements. EPA is also finalizing a provision that allows companies to set plant-wide emissions limits for GHGs, streamlining the permitting process, increasing flexibilities and reducing permitting burdens on state and local authorities and large industrial emitters.

After consulting with the states and evaluating the phase-in process, EPA believes that current conditions do not suggest that EPA should lower the permitting thresholds. Therefore, EPA will not include additional, smaller sources in the permitting program at this time.

The final rule affirms that new facilities with GHG emissions of at least 100,000 tons per year (tpy) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) will continue to be required to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits. Existing facilities that emit 100,000 tpy of CO2e and make changes increasing the GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tpy of CO2e, must also obtain PSD permits. Facilities that must obtain a PSD permit, to include other regulated pollutants, must also address GHG emission increases of 75,000 tpy or more of CO2e. New and existing sources with GHG emissions above 100,000 tpy CO2e must also obtain operating permits.

EPA’s GHG permitting program follows the same Clean Air Act process that states and the industry have followed for decades to help ensure that new or modified facilities are meeting requirements to protect air quality and public health from harmful pollutants. As of May 21, 2012, EPA and state permitting authorities have issued 44 PSD permits addressing GHG emissions. These permits have required new facilities, and existing facilities that make major modifications, to implement energy efficiency measures to reduce their GHG emissions.

The GHG Tailoring Rule will continue to address a group of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The PSD permitting program protects air quality and allows economic growth by requiring facilities that trigger PSD to limit GHG emissions in a cost effective way. An operating permit lists all of a facility’s Clean Air Act emissions control requirements and ensures adequate monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting. The operating permit program allows an opportunity for public involvement and to improve compliance.

ARTBA: Regulations Threaten Highway Bill Progress
Regulatory inefficiencies and threats surrounding the Clean Water Act, and the use of coal ash among other things could undermine the historic policy reforms put in place by MAP-21, the newly enacted highway and transit bill, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chairman Paul Yarossi told Congress.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Yarossi, president of HNTB Holdings, explained that some regulations provide a “sense of predictability and ensure a balance between meeting our nation’s transportation mobility needs and protecting the public interest.” However, he cited three areas that “hinder, rather than help this balance.”

Yarossi pointed to draft guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would greatly expand the reach of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to include roadside ditches within the jurisdiction of wetlands. “Virtually every road and roadway improvement project has a ditch associated with it,” explained Yarossi. “Notwithstanding the complete lack of viability of such a plan, it would inject major uncertainty and delays in the delivery of transportation benefits.”

The ARTBA chairman also highlighted the EPA’s possible designation of coal ash as a “hazardous waste.” Coal ash is commonly used material in concrete and a key component in transportation infrastructure improvements. He cited a 2011 ARTBA economic study, which found that removing coal ash from transportation construction would cost the public and private sectors more than $104 billion dollars over the next 20 years. Such increases could threaten jobs and result in increased material costs, thereby negating any cost savings that would develop as a result of policy reforms passed in MAP-21.