Energy & Environment

EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a rule that eases the permitting process for modifications made to polluting facilities.

The rule changes the way the threshold for a more stringent type of permitting is calculated, with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler arguing that the action incentivizes industry to implement technology that would lessen air pollution.

"This rule incentivizes installation of new technologies that can both improve operator efficiency and reduce air pollution," he said in a statement.

Whether or not facility modifications trigger the stricter air pollution permitting process is determined using a two-step process.

The first step seeks to determine whether the modification would cause a "significant emissions increase." The second step seeks to determine whether the modification and other projects undertaken at the pollution facility within a specific time frame together result in a significant net increase in pollution emissions.

If both conditions are met, facility modifications need pre-construction permits under a program called New Source Review.

However, the new rule changes the way that the first step is calculated, accounting for both emissions increases and emissions decreases caused by the modification rather than just the increases. 

The change, first proposed last year, codifies a 2018 memo from then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt which said that decreases should be considered in the first step of the process. 

The new rule is the latest in a string of actions taken on by the EPA to weaken requirements or ease permitting or standards for polluters.

Earlier this month, the agency finalized a rule that could reclassify "major" sources of pollution as minor ones, allowing facilities to abide by less-stringent emissions standards.

And in July, it finalized a rule speeding up the review process for industry permits, which critics said would limit communities' ability to fight them.