Proposal Could Complicate Air Permitting Process, States Say

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Oct. 27 — An Environmental Protection Agency proposal intended to allow for the more efficient processing of Clean Air Act permit review requests could actually lengthen the process and make it more resource-intensive, according to several state environmental agencies.

The Clean Air Act allows for individuals to request that the EPA object to Title V operating permits issued by state and local permitting authorities to power plants, petrochemical complexes and large industrial facilities. Over time, those petitions have grown more complex, which the EPA said caused the permit review process to become a resource-intensive effort.

The EPA in August issued a proposal (RIN:2060-AS61) that would establish a standard format for all Title V petitions and establish minimum content requirements. Several aspects of the proposal were welcomed by state environmental agencies, as well as industry organizations, including the Utility Air Regulatory Group and the American Petroleum Institute, as a way to improve the process.

However, several state environmental agencies, including Virginia and Arkansas, said in comments that proposed changes to administrative record requirements could slow down the permitting process and result in unnecessary costs.

45-Day Delay Possible

Several states objected to a proposed requirement that permitting authorities submit a “response to comments” document alongside any draft permit that is submitted for EPA review. States are required to solicit comments for 30 days, while the EPA’s period for reviewing a draft permit is 45 days.

The EPA’s proposal would “vastly increase” the time it takes to issue Title V permits, according to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Arkansas is one of several states that currently send draft permits to the EPA for review at the same time it solicits public comments on draft permits.

The concurrent review by the public and the EPA allows state regulators to address the concerns from both, while saving time in the permitting process, according to Arkansas. The state agency said any proposal that requires the public comment period to occur before a permit is submitted to the EPA would extend the permitting process by at least 45 days.

The Class of ’85 Regulatory Response Group, a coalition of electric generating companies, told the EPA that while efforts to streamline the permitting process would be welcome, any changes shouldn’t prohibit the concurrent review process.

Resource Concerns

States also raised concerns about a proposal that would require permitting agencies to provide public notice when they submit a draft permit for review, an extra step that they said would impose needless costs.

“Requiring state and local agencies to publish what amounts to a second public notice for every proposed Title V permit would be expensive, and many agencies are already struggling with scarce funds and staffing resources,” the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents 40 state agencies, said in its comments.

The association suggested that instead the EPA should bear the responsibility of notifying the public that it is reviewing a draft permit.

Advocates Object to Page Limits

State environmental agencies weren’t the only parties to raise objections to the EPA’s permitting proposal: The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and other environmental organizations also criticized the proposal.

The advocacy groups argued in joint comments that the Title V petition process is not a “significant drag” on the EPA’s oversight of state permitting programs but instead is driving the EPA’s oversight. The EPA hasn’t objected to a single permit in the last five years without first being petitioned to do so, the advocacy groups said.

While the advocacy organizations identified problems with the current Title V process, they suggested that the agency’s proposal would “unduly burden” petitioners without resolving those underlying issues. The environmental groups specifically objected to the EPA’s consideration of page limits on petitions, a decision that the advocates said would limit the ability of citizens to fully challenge complex permits that contain multiple deficiencies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at PAmbrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

All comments filed on the EPA’s proposal are available at http://src.bna.com/jHn.

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