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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clean Air Permitting: Status of Implementation and Issues

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments required major industrial sources of air pollutants to obtain 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 regulations to implement Title V 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. Now, however, 99% of all required original permits have 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.

Attention to the Title V program has increased recently because in 2010 EPA initiated several regulatory actions to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) under existing CAA authority that will have implications for Title V permits and permitting beginning in 2011. For Title V, these actions will mean including GHG control requirements in existing Title V permits issued for non-GHG pollutants and issuing new Title V permits for sources whose non-GHG emissions are small, but GHG emissions are above specified thresholds. To minimize the costs and administrative burden of its GHG regulations, EPA issued a “Tailoring Rule” to impose requirements only on the largest sources of GHG emissions. Nevertheless, EPA’s actions have been highly controversial.

Twenty years after Congress enacted Title V, 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. Clean Air Act issues are expected to be of considerable interest during the 112
th Congress, especially scrutiny of EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s actions concerning GHGs involve Title V as well as other provisions of the act; thus, Title V could draw greater congressional attention in the future.

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL33632
Price: $29.95

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