The U.S. EPA has adopted final nonattainment designations for 51 areas across the country for the agency’s 2015 national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone. In a previous action, EPA had issued its attainment and unclassifiable designations, finding that 85% of the nation’s counties qualify for one of those designations (a designation of unclassifiable means that the agency does not have enough information to determine whether the areas is in attainment or. nonattainment). Still to come, likely by July 17, 2018, is action by EPA on eight counties around San Antonio, Texas.
On April 17, 2010 EPA issued a guidance document on the implementation of significant impact levels (“SIL”) for ozone and fine particles. Under EPA’s air pollution permitting regime known as “New Source Review,” SIL values are one way to demonstrate that a new facility or modification of an existing facility will not cause a violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) or Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) increments for a regulated pollutant. In short, if a source’s “projected impact on air quality” is below the “SIL,” the source is deemed to have no significant impact on air quality. If a source’s impacts are above the SIL, far more extensive modeling analyses are needed to demonstrate compliance, so the SIL helps streamline the permitting process for projects that can meet it.
On March 31, 2018, the District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to complete a residual risk and technology review (“RTR”) by October 1, 2021 for nine source categories of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”). The specific source categories at the center of this challenge were:
• Primary Copper Smelting
• Carbon Black Production
• Cyanide Chemicals Manufacturing
• Spandex Production
• Flexible Polyurethane Foam Fabrication Operations
• Refractory Products Manufacturing
• Semiconductor Manufacturing
• Primary Magnesium Manufacturing
• Mercury Cell Chlor-Alkali Plants
Section 112 of the Clean Air Act establishes a two-stage process for regulating HAPs from stationary sources. In the first stage, EPA is required to develop technology-based standards, known as MACT standards, for specified industrial source categories. In the second stage, EPA must reassess those standards eight years after they are promulgated. This second stage is itself divided into two distinct processes: a one-time residual risk review and a technology review to be conducted every eight years.
The deadlines for these sources were seven to eight years past due. Thus, plaintiff environmental groups claimed that EPA violated the CAA because it failed to timely issue the RTRs, and they proposed an intense schedule for EPA to complete the rulemakings. Plaintiffs proposed that EPA promulgate final rules for five source categories by March 31, 2019, and for the remaining four source categories by March 31, 2020. While EPA did not disagree that the rulemakings were past due, the Agency argued that the proposed timeline was impossible to meet because of the limited resources at the Agency’s disposal and the complexities involved in these types of rulemakings. Because of these restraints, EPA requested seven years to complete the nine rulemakings, proposing nine specific dates with the earliest rule due by July 22, 2022 and the latest due by January 16, 2025.
The court held that EPA failed to demonstrate that it was impossible to issue the rulemakings in a timely manner. However, it found that the plaintiffs’ timeline was “much too draconian.” Therefore, the court set its own timeline, requiring EPA to begin the rulemakings by January 1, 2019 and issue final rules for all nine source categories no later than October 1, 2021, in less than four years. Importantly, the court gave EPA some flexibility by allowing the Agency to “move for an extension of the deadlines” if it needs more time.
On March 16, 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld and partially rejected an EPA rule known as the “Boiler MACT.” Officially named the “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Major Sources: Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters,” it regulates the emissions of certain types of air pollutants known as “hazardous air pollutants” from boilers located at “major sources” of those pollutants. EPA issued the rule in several different rulemakings, due to the fact that the agency decided to reconsider a few provisions several times along the way. As a result, the litigation over the rule became very complicated. Sierra Club challenged numerous provisions of the rule, claiming that they failed to comply with the Clean Air Act. Most of those challenges were resolved in a 2016 decision, but the court had reserved two issues that were finally decided this week—namely Sierra Club’s challenges to EPA’s carbon monoxide (CO) limits for certain boilers and the startup and shutdown work practices. Specifically, Sierra Club alleged that (1) EPA failed to adequately justify its decision to make CO limit less stringent (130 ppm), and (2) EPA’s qualitative “work practice” standards during startup and shutdown are unlawful.
NSR—the program imposing onerous permitting requirements on the construction of new sources and “major modification” projects at existing sources—requires industrial sources of air emissions to determine whether the projects they propose will increase those emissions. EPA adopted regulations in 2002 to provide a new structure for those critical emission calculations, which specifies that sources must calculate the “sum of the differences” between a baseline and a future projection for each existing emission unit. That language is particularly important for individual projects that may cause emissions to go down at one unit but up at another.
On March 1, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) Administrator, E. Scott Pruitt, signed a notice seeking public comment on the proposed withdrawal of the control techniques guidelines (“CTG”) for the oil and natural gas industry. The oil and natural gas CTGs make recommendations for reducing volatile organic compound emissions from oil and natural gas equipment and processes in ozone nonattainment areas classified as Moderate or higher and states in the Ozone Transport Region by addressing reasonably available control technology review requirements in their state implementation plans.
On February 14, 2018, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) New Source Review (“NSR”) permitting program as an initial step towards NSR reform. See https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/new-source-review-permitting-challenges-manufacturing-infrastructure/. Six witnesses presented testimony at the hearing, with four in favor of and two against reform. There is wide anticipation that EPA will move to adopt some sort of reform of the NSR program, although exactly how and when is not known. The EPA Administrator this past December issued a Memorandum to the EPA regional administrators providing guidance on “Enforceability and Use of the Actual-to-Projected-Actual Applicability Test in Determining Major Modification Applicability,” and it is expected that further guidance or rulemakings may be forthcoming. In addition, it is expected that a new effort will be made to reform the program through legislation, with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) having introduced two bills last June on that subject.
On January 25, 2018, EPA’s Assistant Administrator, William Wehrum, issued a memorandum addressing when a “major source” subject to a section 112 maximum achievable control technology (“MACT”) standard of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) can be reclassified as an “area source,” and thus avoid any more stringent requirements that only apply to “major sources.” The memorandum departs from and supersedes EPA’s longstanding “Once in Always in” (“OIAI”) policy articulated in the May 1995 Seitz Memorandum. Under the OIAI policy, a major source of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”) was permanently subject to the MACT standard at the “first compliance date” of the standard even if the source was able to later limit its potential to emit (“PTE”) HAPs below the major source thresholds. EPA’s new policy explains that a major source will become an area source once it takes enforceable limits on its PTE to ensure emissions cannot exceed the applicable major source thresholds for HAPS.
On January 9, 2018, the EPA published the third round of final area designations under the 2010 SO2 NAAQS. In this round, the EPA identified six (6) nonattainment areas located in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Guam. EPA designated 23 areas as unclassifiable and all other areas as attainment/unclassifiable. The primary focus in this round was on those areas electing to rely on ambient air quality modeling to assess attainment with the standard.
On December 7, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a memorandum explaining EPA’s future approach concerning enforcement of the New Source review program, considering the uncertainty created by the Sixth Circuit’s decisions in the DTE NSR cases (U.S. v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013) and U.S. v. DTE, 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017)). NSR requires new major sources and major modifications at existing sources to obtain a permit before construction commences. In determining whether a permit is needed for a major modification, owners or operators are required to conduct a pre-construction applicability analysis to determine whether the proposed project would cause a significant emission increase, calculated using the actual-to-projected-actual applicability test that compares past actual emissions to future projected emissions. The memorandum’s main focus is on circumstances where sources have used that test in determining NSR applicability and the pre- and post-project source obligations. Continue Reading New Source Review Memorandum Alters EPA’s Enforcement Approach Concerning Actual-to-Projected-Actual Applicability Test