Environmental Permitting

New Source Review Permits: Still Relevant and Still Required

The first NSR regulations were promulgated under the 1977 amendments to the CAA. In 2002 revisions were finalized to improve the regulations and clarify many outstanding concerns. Since then, the NSR program has been in a constant state of change with multiple proposed changes and clarifications undertaken every year up to the present. As a result, it takes considerable attention to stay up-to-date on federal and state NSR programs and associated requirements.

One important set of standards that directly impacts the NSR regulations is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The specific criteria pollutants defined in the NAAQS are carbon dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution (a.k.a., particulate matter or PM), and sulfur dioxide, and there are specific limits set for each. The NAAQS standards are also grouped as either:

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Primary standards that provide public health protection, including protecting the health of "sensitive" populations, such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly, and

Secondary standards that provide public welfare protection, including protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.

The NAAQS are a driver behind the federal requirement for all states to have State Implementation Plans (SIPs) that must be approved by the EPA and maintained “in all areas of the country.” SIPs are two-part plans with a general plan to meet NAAQS and a specific plan when NAAQS are not met in an area. Areas that meet NAAQS are called attainment areas; areas that do not meet the standards are called nonattainment areas.

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In general, SIPs show that states have EPA-approved elements of an air quality management program in place and that the state has “the capacity to attain, maintain, and enforce a new or revised NAAQS.” When the EPA creates a new NAAQS or revises a current one, states must also submit SIP revisions within 3 years of the federal change addressing ambient air quality monitoring and data systems, programs for enforcement of control measures, and adequate authority and resources to implement the plan. Each state’s NSR program is codified within its SIP although some states rely on EPA’s NSR program but are delegated authority by the EPA.

Since it is the state or local regulating agency’s duty to manage air quality, including emissions from facilities, most owners or operators will work with that agency to obtain an NSR permit, although the EPA does maintain authority in some areas. As is usually the case, states with NSR program authority may have more stringent requirements than the federal programs.

EPA’s website provides a national map showing which states have SIPs, which are delegated authority by the EPA, and others that are a combination of state and federal. The site also provides links to permitting contacts within each state at http://www.epa.gov/nsr/where.html.

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