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EPA Issues Permitting Guidelines for Plant Construction

Nov. 11, 2010
Steel plants, refineries, other large emitters to be addressed first as CAA is used to control GHG

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidelines for states and local air-permitting agencies to use beginning in January when issuing building permits and other clearances to businesses planning new projects or construction. The guidelines are a follow-on measure to the EPA’s announcement in May that it intends to use the Clean Air Act provisions to achieve reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG).

As of January 2, 2011, businesses already required to obtain New Source Review permits for other pollutants must include GHG in their permits if they their plans will increase emissions of GHG by 75,000 tons (or more) of CO2 equivalent per year.

In addition, as of January 2, industries that are large emitters of GHGs, and are planning to build new facilities or make major modifications to existing ones, must work with state or local permitting authorities to identify and implement Best Achievable Control Technologies (BACT) to minimize the GHGs. Included in this group are coal-burning power plants, cement plants, steel plants, and oil refineries. Smaller-scale producers will be addressed subsequently.

EPA asserts that the BACT approach will be the most cost-effective way for businesses to reduce GHG.

The guidelines do not define or require a specific control option for a particular type of source, EPA explains, because BACT is determined on a case-by-case basis.

“‘EPA is working closely with its partners at the state and local levels to ensure permitting for greenhouse gases runs smoothly,”‘ stated Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office Air and Radiation. “‘To identify GHG reduction options, EPA and the states are now ready to apply the same time-tested process they have used for other pollutants. This shows that the Clean Air Act can be used to reduce these gases in a cost effective way.”‘

The agency calls it strategy a “common sense approach” and insists that its future permitting decisions will take into account the cost and technical feasibility of GHG reduction — a response to one of the many objections raised by business groups and some states.