On October 1, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued its final rule allowing for a source classified as a “major source” of hazardous air pollutants (“HAP”) under section 112(a) of the Clean Air Act to reclassify as an “area source.”  A “major source” emits or has the “potential to emit” 10 tons per year or more of a single HAP or 25 tons per year or more of a combination of HAP.  The EPA had long-followed the “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 Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) standard was permanently subject to that standard, even if the source was later able to reduce its emissions below major source applicability thresholds.  With the final rule, branded as the “Major MACT to Area” (“MM2A”), EPA codified the withdrawal of the “once-in-always” policy and provided the requirements that apply to major sources choosing to reclassify, including reclassification that occurs after the first substantive compliance date of an applicable MACT standard.

Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Clean Air Act Rule Allowing Some Major Sources to Re-Classify as Area Sources

State strategies for regulating air emissions during periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM) have been a controversial topic in recent years. Air emissions can be higher during periods of SSM because emitting units are not in steady-state operation and some pollution control devices cannot be operated effectively or safely during such events. Since most air emission limitations are not crafted to cover periods when emission units are not operating normally, many states have adopted regulations in their Clean Air Act-required State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to provide compliance flexibility for sources during periods of SSM. These regulations typically take the form of either automatic or discretionary exemptions for emissions that exceed otherwise applicable limitations, or affirmative defenses to liability or penalties for violations asserted by enforcement authorities or private citizens.

Continue Reading EPA Releases New Guidance on Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction Provisions in State Regulations

As of September 4, 2020, Illinois has responsibility for direct administration of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting program under state regulations, including federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements under authority delegated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In doing so, Illinois joins 46 other states that have elected to administer the PSD program directly.  State PSD regulations, added as Part 204 of the Illinois air quality pollution rules, 35 Ill. Adm. Code Part 204, were published in the Illinois Register on September 19, 2020.

Continue Reading Illinois Finalizes Regulations for Direct Implementation of Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permitting under the Clean Air Act

Environmental justice has received greater attention in 2020, both because it is an election year, but also because of the increased focus on racial inequality since the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. Many states are considering legislation on this topic, but on August 27, 2020, New Jersey passed a significant environmental justice bill, the first to require denial of a permit on environmental justice ground.
Continue Reading New Jersey Passes Significant Environmental Justice Legislation

A recent amicus curiae filing in a high-profile Michigan Clean Air Act case targets an important aspect of environmental law — citizen suit provisions — and whether they run afoul of constitutional principles. In U.S. v. DTE Energy et al.,[1] a Michigan district court is considering arguments of two law professors who question whether citizen suits invade executive powers.

Continue Reading Amicus Briefing Suggests Citizen Suits Are Unconstitutional

Illinois is taking the final steps toward adopting an authorized state program for direct administration of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting program under proposed state regulations, taking responsibility for federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements previously administered under delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Continue Reading Illinois Moves to Undertake Direct Implementation of Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permitting under the Clean Air Act

On May 5, 2020, the Illinois Attorney General filed a complaint against a developer and its contractors responsible for demolishing the smokestack of a former coal-fired power plant in Chicago. The suit provides a good reminder that careful planning for the control of fugitive dust emissions is critical during decommissioning activities—and that state legal offices

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

On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) released the pre-publication version of the final part to their joint Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (“SAFE”) Vehicles Rule. The new rule amends EPA’s greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles in model years 2021 and onward, and it simultaneously amends or creates NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy standards for similar vehicles in model years (MY) 2021-2026. Under these harmonized regulations, each new model year will bring a 1.5% increase in stringency through MY 2026. Though a significant lessening of requirements from joint standards last set in 2012, this “steady ramp rate” is a notable change from the proposed version of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, which sought to maintain requirements as they applied in MY 2020. The new rule will take effect sixty days from its publication in the Federal Register.

Continue Reading Agencies Release Final Rule on Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy