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The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) recently amended regulations, increasing the capability for facilities with low actual emissions to become exempt from requiring an air permit (15A NCAC 02Q .0102).  Under the previous version of the exemptions, any facility whose actual emissions of criteria pollutants, before control, would each be less than five tons per year could be exempt.  The new rule states that the facility-wide actual five tons per year exemption threshold is now after control, and total actual aggregate of all pollutants must be less than 10 tons per year.  Criteria pollutants included particulate (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon monoxide (CO).  The particulate threshold is now also applicable to particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) rather than total PM.  Facilities that are not exempt and have total actual aggregate emissions greater than five tons per year, but less than 25 tons per year, may apply for registration rather than obtaining a permit. These new amendments became effective June 13, 2016.

The DAQ has sent out notices to current permit holders known to have low actual air emissions, providing information about the rule changes along with instructions for rescinding existing permits for facilities that can now be exempt or eligible for registration.  Exemption from permitting has advantages of reducing regulatory burden, liabilities and fees.

Registration also offers advantages, including:

  • Simplification of administrative requirements for sources;
  • No expiration date requiring renewal;
  • No recurring air emission inventory requirement;
  • No fees (application or annual); and
  • Allows for future expansions/modifications without modifying registration (as long as the registration criteria is still met).

The immediate urge may be to jump on the bandwagon and eliminate existing permits in favor of registration.  However, this decision should be carefully thought out, considering the facilities current compliance status, the level of effort associated with current recordkeeping and reporting, plans for the future and what future rules/amendments may affect the facility.

WARNING:  Some facilities will find that there are benefits for retaining their air permit.

Application for registration in lieu of permitting requires some effort to document that emissions meet the criteria for registration, similar to what is required for permitting.  An updated look at emission estimates would be required at the time of application to validate that the facility meets the eligibility requirements.  The DAQ notice letter states a preference for the facility, “If possible, provide up to five years’ worth of data to substantiate this claim…”

Although a registered facility may not need to develop a permit application and wait for official DAQ approval for a future modification that remains below the 25 tons per year threshold, documentation will still be required to provide notice to the DAQ of additions and modifications.  The facility will still need to evaluate each addition/change, characterize and quantify emissions increases and satisfy the DAQ that the 25 ton per year threshold is maintained.  Also, if future modifications do exceed the 25 ton per year threshold, a permit application would be required and the facility would need a permit again.  This may pose a larger effort at the time of such a modification than modifying an existing permit.

Permits for Small Sources in North Carolina generally provide a comprehensive summary of the air quality regulatory requirements applicable to the specific facility.  In the absence of this permit document, facility environmental coordinators will still be responsible for knowing and complying with these requirements (e.g., general fugitive dust control, control of odorous emissions, PM limitations, work practices for VOCs, Toxic Air Pollutant [TAP] tracking relative to Toxic Permit Emission Rates [TPERs] requiring a permit, control equipment inspections and recordkeeping).  Over time, items that once were attended to because there was a permit may tend to be forgotten or not given the appropriate priority.  Changes to the personnel responsible for environmental compliance that tend to occur over time may result in loss of knowledge such that important compliance requirements get overlooked/missed.

Lacking a compliance tool with some legal weight may actually increase the potential for non-compliance in some instances. 

Each facility should consider these factors, given their own site-specific requirements, personnel qualifications and culture. It may be desirable to consult a qualified air permitting professional prior to deciding to rescind existing permits or apply for registration in lieu of a permit.  The EI Group, Inc. (EI) has qualified professionals who can facilitate understanding of the rule amendments and assist weigh the pros and cons of the available options.