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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Clean Air Permitting: Status of Implementation and Issues

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments require major industrial sources of air pollutants to obtain federal operating permits. These permits, authorized in Title V of the act, are intended to enhance environmental compliance by detailing for each covered facility all of the emission control requirements to which it is subject. Title V also was intended to generate permit fees that would be used by state and local permitting authorities for administering the program. Implementation of these requirements affects nearly 17,000 industrial sources of air emissions, as well as state and local air pollution control agencies. Adding these provisions to the act was controversial, and implementation, too, has generated controversies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued Title V regulations in 1992. Aspects of those rules (particularly concerning procedures to modify permits) have been contentious since then. EPA has considered a number of regulatory revisions, but has not finalized any modifications. However, EPA has issued white papers and a number of formal and informal guidance documents that, together with the 1992 rules, comprise the agency's current interpretation of statutory and regulatory requirements.

Because of regulatory and program approval delays, state and local agencies were slow to begin issuing Title V permits, falling far short of statutory deadlines and EPA's goals. As of March 2000, for example, less than 45% of all required Title V permits had been issued. According to an EPA Inspector General report, key factors that delayed issuance of permits included insufficient state resources, complex EPA rules and limited guidance, and conflicting state priorities. According to EPA, as of January 2008, 99% of all required original permits had been issued, and permit reissuance (required after five years) and modification have replaced issuance of initial permits as the major ongoing task of permitting agencies.

Nineteen years after Congress enacted Title V, the program has reached some maturity, and most stakeholders agree that at least some of the benefits identified by Congress have been achieved, such as incorporation of applicable air pollution control requirements in a single document that is accessible to regulators, the public, and industrial sources. At the same time, there also is widespread dissatisfaction with the program's complexity, costs, and confusing requirements. Many believe that a lack of EPA guidance has contributed greatly to implementation problems. Congressional examination of Title V has been limited to several oversight hearings, the most recent of which was in 2000.

Date of Report: December 30, 2009
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33632
Price: $29.95

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