US EPA voids significant Texas air permit program in effect for 16 years
For the past 16 years the state of Texas has been issuing air quality permits to refineries and other major sources that permitted emissions caps on facilities, and allowed facilities to comply with the caps in a manner that gave them some operating flexibility while not exceeding the overall facility cap specified in the permit. This approach, also used in other states, is generally applauded by companies, regulatory agencies, and also by environmental groups. It is a win-win for everyone. So why did EPA void the program?
First, state programs operate under authority delegated by USEPA, so EPA does have the right to disapprove a state program it deems to be inadequate under the federal Clean Air Act. A major problem with the EPA action disapproving the Texas permitting program is that there are existing sources in Texas permitted under the program that are relying on the permit terms in their existing permits and have based their business decisions on an existing established permitting program that has been in place since 1995.
EPA had the ability to veto state permit actions when they were put in place by Texas, but apparently did not do so. To now cast into disarray the permits of all sources permitted with emissions caps will seriously disadvantage some or many of the sources permitted under this approach. The reason this will be so difficult is that sources using emissions caps in their permits do so to more cost-effectively meet overall facility emission limits, while letting one or more difficult to control (or much more expensive to control) emissions units emit more than otherwise might be required, in exchange for controlling other emissions units to a tighter level than required. The total emissions from the sources will therefore meet the facility-wide emissions limits, but one or more emissions units within the source might be emitting at a level above a limit for that emissions unit than would have been required if it were the only emissions unit being permitted.
Since the current permitting program in Texas has been issuing permits with caps for 16 years, with implicit EPA approval, the reasons for disapproval now are not clear.
The result of this action will be widespread, and will drive permit holders to see if they can upgrade controls on some sources that might have only a few remaining years of useful life, and will almost certainly lead to plant closures of facilities that just cannot afford to put on new controls on existing emissions units.
For more information: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/1D91BF2747C5682B8525775200626AA6