What You Need to Know Now About EPA Compliance Regulations

Here’s an Overview of Key Federal and State Requirements and Some Technical Tips to Keep Your Facilities in Compliance

By Warren Dean

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Whether you are planning new assets or improving operational efficiency at existing plants, getting environmental monitoring right is important to unlock value and boost profitability because it is impossible to succeed in a regulated environment if you cannot control emissions and capture real-time operational data. Good controls in combination with accurate data are the key to promoting compliance, avoiding penalties, increasing uptime and lowering total cost of ownership (TCO).

Environmental monitoring sometimes is viewed as a recently introduced cost of business. But environmental monitoring has been a mandated part of many industrial production processes since the enactment of the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. Moreover, the federal government recently renewed an environmental justice interagency working group tasked with developing proposals that could lead to more stringent EPA rulemaking, permitting, community programs, and compliance and enforcement decisions. The ongoing focus on health and environmental concerns, particularly in urban areas, suggest that regulation and monitoring requirements are likely to become more stringent in the years ahead, not less.

How We Got Here
The U.S. Congress enacted its first significant air-pollution legislation, the Air Pollution Control Act, in 1955. The Clean Air Act (CAA) followed in 1963. This second legislation marked the beginning of more aggressive environmental monitoring and enforcement. While the CAA authorized research and technical assistance, it also included specific pollution control requirements for power plants, steel mill, and other stationary sources.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 for the first time required the EPA to establish minimum national air-quality standards while allowing states to oversee enforcement. Under the amendments, state governments were required to submit state implementation plans (SIPs) to the EPA for approval before this transfer of enforcement responsibility could occur.

Subsequent acts and amendments on the federal level have added many more provisions for reducing air pollution from local, interstate and international sources. Federal legislation is primary because these statutes preempt state and local legislation under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, U.S. environmental law sometimes allows the state to enact regulations if the state provisions are more stringent than the corresponding federal legislation.

Industrial operators must implement effective monitoring solutions to comply with the many federal, state and local emission regulations that directly affect their facilities. These regulatory requirements are only likely to become more stringent in the future as governments continue to search for ways to reduce airborne toxins and GHGs.

 California plays a unique environmental policy role among the states because the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) was established three years before the CAA Amendments were enacted at the federal level. In California, actual rule making and oversight are tasked to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which is a department within Cal/EPA. Under the 1970 Act, states can apply to the EPA to adopt the CARB standards.

Because California has a unique climate, geography and automobile culture, the CARB has occasionally enacted rules that are more restrictive on emissions than federal standards. Starting in the early 1990s, several Eastern and Western states requested permission from the EPA to switch to stricter emission standards being followed in California. By 2007, 11 states had adopted the California regime with six other states considering similar action. States are also adopting California's goal of reducing passenger car greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020.

The State of California has 12 Air Quality Monitoring Districts (AQMDs). The AQMDs are county or regional governing authorities with primary responsibility for regulating stationary sources of air pollution in their defined areas.

Key EPA Regulations and State Administrative Codes
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and more specifically by Title 40, Protection of the Environment, applies to refineries, factories, power plants and other large industrial sources. Sources that operate in California or a state that adopts California standards are probably also subject to laws, rules and regulations administered by the CARB.

Note: EPA regulations, state administrative codes and other air quality mandates prompt many legal challenges. Current law allows individuals and state and local governments to sue the EPA to overturn proposed and enacted regulations. As a result, numerous regulatory challenges are usually underway at all times in the federal and state court systems. Decisions in these cases can significantly affect monitoring requirements and enforcement mechanisms. For example, In October 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a utility industry challenge to the administration's new regulations for stationary sources, while at the same time confirming the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. This case will be argued in the first half of 2014 with a decision likely the following summer.

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