As Congress failed to pass climate change legislation, U.S. EPA will begin regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act. Beginning 2011, major sources of GHGs will be required to analyze methods for reducing emissions when seeking federal permits for expansion or construction of new sources.
When is a federal review of GHGs triggered?
Under the Tailoring Rule, U.S. EPA established thresholds for triggering federal permit review of GHGs from new and modified sources. Initially, only the largest sources will be covered. The newly released guidance document contains these useful tables:
If you trigger a review of GHGs under the federal air permit program (PSD permit), then the permitting agency must determine what the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) is to reduce emission of GHGs for that source.
Complex Case-By-Case Process Will Prove Very Difficult
Selecting BACT is no easy process. BACT reviews can become the black box of permitting. It includes a highly complex review of all existing technologies to reduce emissions and their potential application to the source. A business may propose what they think BACT should be, however, they have no assurance the permitting agency will concur with their choice.
US EPA’s PSD GHG guidance states all available emission reduction options for GHGs should be reviewed. Once the options are identified, they should be evaluated based upon the following elements:
- technical feasibility;
- cost and other economic considerations;
- environmental and energy considerations.
The permitting agency performing the review should narrow the options and select the most appropriate technology or combination of technologies from the list. This case-by-case determination provides no certainty to industry. This is especially true for the first permits that will trigger the review.
No Benchmarks for First Permits
With other pollutants (SO2, NOx, CO, etc.) that have long been subject to BACT review, U.S. EPA has assembled a database of permitting actions that identify technology as well as emission limits. This database is referred to at the BACT/RACT/LAER Clearinghouse. U.S. EPA directs permit reviewers to consult the Clearinghouse as a first step.
With GHGs, the Clearinghouse will provide little assistance. There will simply be no other permits issued for similar sources that will allow permit reviewers to compare determinations. With no benchmarks, permit reviewers will be guessing at BACT.
U.S. EPA has released white papers on available and emerging technologies for specific industry sectors. However, these are simply laundry lists of technologies. Until the Clearinghouse is populated, permit reviewers will have no ability to benchmark their determinations.