Energy & Environment

EPA loosens air pollution permit requirements for some projects

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The Trump administration is implementing a policy meant to make it easier for facilities that produce air pollution to make changes without going through a complex permitting process.

The policy published Wednesday changes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines whether changes to power plants and other facilities — like installing new equipment — need to go through the New Source Review process. That process is an extensive analysis meant to limit emissions of air pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Under the new policy, the EPA will consider different actions to be a single project for permitting purposes if they are “substantially related.” That could potentially exempt actions that increase emissions if other actions reduce them.

{mosads}The policy is part of a series of actions the EPA has taken to overhaul the New Source Review process and narrow the projects that need go through permitting as if they were new construction.

“Previously, New Source Review regularly discouraged companies from employing the latest energy-efficient equipment,” acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

“Our updates will remove undue regulatory barriers, provide greater certainty to America’s job creators and energy providers, and incentivize upgrades that will improve air quality.”

Since the EPA isn’t changing regulatory text, it did not do any cost-benefit analysis of the change, including how it might increase or decrease air pollution, or how much it could save industry.

The policy being implemented Wednesday, which isn’t treated as a regulation and doesn’t hold the weight of law, was first put forward in 2009, five days before then-President George W. Bush left office.

President Barack Obama’s administration then suspended the policy after environmental groups objected and said it would increase air pollution. Officials gathered input in 2010 on potentially reversing or changing it, but never took action.

The American Forest & Paper Association, whose member companies often are subject to EPA air pollution permitting reviews for manufacturing plants, cheered the new policy.

“Currently, companies working in good faith to comply with this component of NSR must rely on interpretations of project aggregation that are contrary to historical approaches. As a result, new manufacturing investments can be forced to be grouped together for permitting when they are economically and technically very different projects that should be considered separately — a costly process that hampers strategic business planning,” Donna Harman, the group’s president, said in a statement.

“Clear public policy that will support their ability to continuously invest in their facilities is helping to grow the economy and create American manufacturing jobs.”

Tags Air pollution Barack Obama Environmental Protection Agency
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