Under the Clean Air Act, a facility that emits air pollutants may not be constructed unless an air permit has been issued to the facility.  For decades, EPA has interpreted the statute to prohibit almost any construction or modification activities until a permitting authority issues a final permit.  But on March 25, 2020, EPA proposed new guidance to clarify that, according regulations adopted 40 years ago, the only construction prohibited prior to issuance of an air permit is construction on the emitting unit itself.

Continue Reading EPA Shifts Policy on Construction Prior to an Air Permit

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues across the U.S., it is important for companies to proactively address the potential disruptions to their compliance programs. Environmental compliance is often a boots-on-the-ground activity; but what happens when those boots are at home, can’t travel as needed, or can’t observe operations at the plant level?  Unprecedented staffing and operational issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic have the potential to cause significant gaps in environmental compliance programs. Staying ahead of those gaps is key to weathering these compliance challenges. Below we discuss some recommended strategies to maintain compliance.

Continue Reading Environmental Compliance in the Wake of the Coronavirus

On March 9, 2020, EPA published its final “risk and technology review” for the standards it adopted in 2004 to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutant (HAP) from natural gas-fired combustion turbines. Like most other such reviews, EPA confirmed that the risks presented by HAP emissions from the source category are acceptable with an ample margin of safety. EPA also concluded that there are no new cost-effective controls for reducing those emissions.

Continue Reading EPA Review of Gas Turbines Confirms Ample Margin of Safety, Even Without Controls

Last week, EPA fulfilled a promise to reverse the expansion of its refrigerant management program during the Obama Administration. That expansion, which was finalized in 2016 and became effective in 2019, EPA extended the regulations for ozone depleting substances (ODS) to non-ODS “substitute” refrigerants, with the intent of reducing emissions of substitutes that consist of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including some with very high global warming potentials. Last week’s final rule returns the refrigerant management program to its original focus, at least with respect to appliance leak repair requirements, although some regulatory requirements for non-ODS substitute refrigerants will remain in place.

Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Rule to Limit Refrigerant Program to Ozone Depleting Substances

EPA’s New Source Review (NSR) reform efforts have been in full swing over the past month or so as the Agency released two final guidance documents, issued a pre-publication version of a proposed rule, took final action to end a years-old reconsideration of a 2007 rulemaking, and released its Fall Unified Agenda detailing dates for a number of upcoming NSR-related actions. While these actions may not have immediate consequences for many regulated sources, they are evidence that EPA continues to pursue its NSR reform agenda. 
Continue Reading EPA Engages in Flurry of NSR-Related Actions as 2019 Draws to a Close

EPA published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on August 9, 2019 that addresses how facilities undertaking a project involving multiple air emission units are to account for emission increases and decreases associated with the project. The proposed rule incorporates an interpretation of EPA’s New Source Review (NSR) regulations originally advanced in a March 2018 guidance document from Administrator Scott Pruitt entitled “Project Emissions Accounting Under the New Source Review Preconstruction Permitting Program.”

Continue Reading EPA Issues Proposed NSR Reform Rule Addressing “Project Emissions Accounting”

On June 25, 2019, EPA released a pre-publication draft of a proposed rule allowing sources subject to Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act to voluntarily limit their emissions and avoid MACT.  The proposed rule, which formalizes and expands on a January 2018 guidance document issued by former EPA Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum, would allow “major sources” of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) otherwise subject to MACT standards to take an enforceable limit on HAPs and thus reclassify as “area sources.”  The rulemaking, branded by the Agency as “Major MACT to Area” (MM2A), would eliminate the Agency’s longstanding “once-in-always-in” policy, under which a facility that qualified as a major source of HAPs as of the “first substantive compliance date” of the applicable MACT standard was permanently subject to that standard, even if the source was later able to reduce its emissions below major source applicability thresholds. 
Continue Reading EPA Proposes Rulemaking Withdrawing “Once-In-Always-In” Policy for MACT

EPA fulfilled one of President Trump’s campaign promises this week with the publication of the final Affordable Clean Energy rule—ACE—to replace the Clean Power Plan.  Like the Clean Power Plan, ACE is an “emission guideline” issued under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the electric utility sector.  However, while the Clean Power Plan could only be achieved by shifting electricity generation away from energy resources that emit CO2, ACE only regulates sources of CO2 emissions directly by requiring efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants.

The notice published on Monday actually contains three separate actions: (1) the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, (2) the adoption of ACE, and (3) revisions to the general regulations governing all “emission guidelines” adopted under Section 111(d).  EPA asserts that each of these components constitutes a separate rulemaking action, but at least the first two are grounded in the same fundamental idea—that Section 111(d) only authorizes EPA to select as a “best system of emission reduction” something that can be “applied” to an individual regulated “stationary source” of emissions. 
Continue Reading Affordable Clean Energy Replaces the Clean Power Plan

EPA Region 6 has proposed to withdraw a 2015 finding that Texas’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) is substantially inadequate to comply with the Clean Air Act (CAA) because of state rules that provide an affirmative defense for excess air emissions that occur during upsets and unplanned maintenance, startup, and shutdown activities. 82 Fed. Reg. 17,986 (Apr. 29. 2019). Region 6 is now proposing to find that Texas’s affirmative defense provisions for so-called “startup, shutdown, and malfunction” or “SSM” events are “narrowly tailored and limited to ensure protection of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),” as required by EPA guidance. Accordingly, Region 6 is proposing to withdraw EPA’s 2015 “SSM” SIP call issued to Texas based on the finding of substantial inadequacy.
Continue Reading EPA Region 6 Withdraws “SSM” SIP Call for Texas

In an order on rehearing issued April 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC)—applying the newly minted Section 36 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. § 823g—decided to extend the new license term for Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) Poe Hydroelectric Project by 10 years.  Pacific Gas and Electric, 167 FERC ¶ 61,047 (2019).  FERC’s initial relicensing order granted a new 40-year license term for the project, but on rehearing, the Commission decided that the new requirements of FPA Section 36 warranted the statutory maximum license term of 50 years.  FERC’s April 18 order on rehearing provides insight into how FERC interprets Section 36, which greatly expands the type of investments made by licensees that FERC must consider when determining the length of a new license term for a hydroelectric project.

Continue Reading FERC Issues First Order Applying New Federal Power Act Section 36 by Granting a 50-Year License Term