The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) NSR permitting program was established more than 35 years ago to address the need for regulation of new and/or modified major stationary sources of emissions, primarily to ensure that they “do not significantly degrade” air quality. This means emissions may not impede the progress of cleaner air in areas with poor air quality nor may they “significantly worsen” air quality in areas with good or even pristine air quality. In addition, the NSR program acts to provide local communities with assurance that new or modified sources will install the latest in pollution control equipment “concurrently” with the changes or expansions.
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To meet these goals, the NSR program mandates construction permits that specify a number of requirements, including:
- What construction is allowed,
- What emission limits will be met,
- How often the source must be operated,
- Conditions to ensure construction matches parameters in the application that was reviewed by the permitting agency,
- Monitoring requirements,
- Recordkeeping requirements, and
- Reporting requirements
NSR permits are almost always issued by state or local air pollution control agencies that have received EPA approval for their SIP or are authorized to issue permits on behalf of EPA.
Facilities planning to add or modify air emissions sources must apply for one or more NSR permits that are defined not only by the emissions from the proposed modifications but also by the facility’s local air quality attainment status. For the purposes of air permitting, EPA defines “air attainment” (and “nonattainment”) as follows:
“A geographic area in which levels of a criteria air pollutant meet the health-based primary standard (national ambient air quality standard, or NAAQS) for the pollutant. An area may have an acceptable level for one criteria air pollutant, but may have unacceptable levels for others. Thus an area could be both attainment and nonattainment at the same time. Attainment areas are defined using federal pollutant limits set by EPA.”
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To meet the multiple requirements of the NSR program, EPA provides three permit options addressing both potential emission sources and current local air quality:
1) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit – required for new major sources or major sources planning major modifications in an attainment area.
2) Nonattainment NSR permit – required for new major sources or major sources planning major modifications in a nonattainment area.
3) Minor Source permit – required for sources that do not meet the requirements for either the PSD permit or the nonattainment NSR permit.
Another aspect of the NSR permitting program that is important to prepare for is the required public comment period. After filing a permit application(s) with the regulating agency a draft permit is prepared and the agency is required to “inform the public of (1) the public comment period, and (2) the deadline for requesting a public hearing on the draft permit.” For years, the notices for public comment periods and hearings were primarily published in local newspapers but today, many agencies also publish them on their websites and/or in regular publications designed for that purpose.
The public comment period is normally 30 days and, depending on public sentiment, comments received by the agency may result in changes to the draft permit. In this case, a second public comment period may be required. In addition, the public has the right to appeal permits to the state agency and/or the EPA.