The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed to approve revisions to Texas’s air pollution permitting program. These revisions, which requires EPA’s approval pursuant to the Clean Air Act, would bring Texas’s State Implementation Plan (SIP), in compliance with federal standards and additionally establish a Plant-wide Applicability Limits (PALs) program in the state.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, states are authorized to develop their own permitting programs, as long as they meet minimum national standards set by Congress and EPA. The proposed revisions to Texas’s SIP will update its New Source Review (NSR) Program, which requires that entities constructing or modifying major air pollution sources obtain a permit prior to construction. The state’s proposed revisions include an update to the method for evaluation of ozone standards in NSR applications to bring it into compliance with a 2006 D.C. Circuit Court decision, an administrative timing change that may change which air quality standards are applied to a permit, and the establishment of a PALs program.
A PAL establishes a site-wide emissions limit for an existing source. By using a PAL, an owner or operator can make changes that increase an individual units’ pollutant emissions so long as plant-wide actual emissions do not exceed its PAL. PALs provide increased operating flexibility for owners and operators, and create an incentive for owners and operators to employ innovative control technologies and pollution control measures to reduce emissions and enable economic expansion. According to the EPA, the the Texas PALs program will reduce emissions because a PAL is based on actual emissions, which are generally less than the emissions allowed under current permits. EPA concluded that Texas’s new rules were at least as stringent as the applicable federal regulations and should have the same impact as the federal PAL rules.
Existing major stationary sources that meet certain criteria will be eligible for a PAL. PALs are pollutant-specific and issued for ten-year terms. Baseline emissions under a PAL are established using any consecutive 24-month period in the last ten years. Emissions calculations include emissions from startups, shutdowns and malfunctions and are adjusted to account for units that have been permanently shut down and potential emissions from units constructed after the baseline period. To obtain a PAL, a facility owner or operator must submit a permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. PAL applications are subject to public notice and comment.
Once EPA’s proposed approval of Texas’s revised SIP is published in the Federal Register, EPA will accept public comments for 30 days.
*Jessica Bayles, a summer associate in the McDermott’s Washington D.C. office, contributed to this article.© 2013 McDermott Will & Emery