Air permitting is an important, yet complex process that all major manufacturing and process companies must manage in order to remain compliant with the everchanging emission standards and regulations. As the world becomes more diligent in enacting emission protocols and inciting climate action, consultancy companies that deal with Air Permitting, Emission Control and other related industrial reporting, are under increasing scrutiny by clients to have all the answers. Eric Sturm, Owner and Lead Consultant for Air Regulations Consulting, LLC (ARC), spoke with Fugitive Emissions Journal about the U.S. Clean Air Act, Title V requirements, Air Permit pre-planning, application processes, and the importance of practical implementation to avoid enforcement.

U.S. Clean Air Act & Title V
With over fifteen years of experience in environmental professional services, Eric Sturm began his career as an Environmental Engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency) at the Region 7 Air Permitting and Compliance Branch. His experience and passion ultimately lead to the establishment of Air Regulations Consulting, LLC (ARC) in 2014. Eric Sturm is well-versed in working with owners and operators in the energy, agricultural, and various manufacturing related sectors regarding air permitting and compliance.

Industrial sources that emit a certain level of criteria or hazardous air emissions into the atmosphere are required to abide by the terms indicated in the U.S. Clean Air Act (CAA). The CAA is designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution and maintaining air quality standards as required by national and state regulatory bodies. Title V of the CAA requires all major sources of air pollutants to obtain an operating permit designed to improve compliance and clarify the permit restraints, and annually certify permit compliance credibility. Operators that have the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of any criteria air pollutant that falls into this category. In certain circumstances, obligations to seek Title V permitting extends to smaller sources.

“Title V came from the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, and aimed to put all applicable requirements into one, condensed document. Before that, a source could have several individual preconstruction permits, often referred to as “NSR” of “PSD” permits, each with its own associated documentation requirements. To reduce confusion and ensure legal enforceability, the EPA proposed this Title V program. The program further requires that all operators renew their Title V permit every five years to ensure all applicable requirements are updated and re-checked,” said Sturm.

Sturm and his team help assess the air quality of a wide variety of clientele and compare their emissions to national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), and provide consultation in understanding the source’s effects on ambient air concentrations. NAAQS defines what is considered clean air as determined by the EPA. An air quality standard specifies the greatest amount of a pollutant that can be present in outdoor air, without causing any harmful effects on the environment or the community. To ensure the adequacy of the existing standards or revisions that may be appropriate to consider to the NAAQS, EPA is subject to the independent advice and recommendations of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee’s (CASAC’s).

Air Quality, Oil & Gas

On a state level, some have been particularly stringent with updating their air quality regulations. In California, ambient air quality standards (CAAQS) have been issued since 1962. CAAQS actually predates the NAAQS set by the EPA, which were created in 1970 and first issued in 1971.
On a national level, the EPA Federal Register is updated daily, therefore consultant companies like ARC must remain constantly informed and up to date on air quality updates in order to provide their clients with the most accurate information. “You can imagine over the course of five years some requirements for sources can drastically change,” commented Sturm. “We follow what is published by the Federal Register everyday, looking at various expert articles in different industrial and scientific fields, with different focuses in different regulations, as well as different localities. A lot of the time you may find one pollutant or industry in a concentrated region, so this will often affect the state or local agency regulatory actions.”

Sturm mentioned that ARC is readily available and serves most regions, states, and localities, in the U.S. as the business is centrally based in the Midwest region. “In the power sector, we work with companies and municipalities that deal with different types of fuels and renewable energy including the use of boilers, turbines, and engines that may connect to the power grid. We also work with several agricultural and manufacturing companies that work with different types of grains, feed related products, ethanol production, as well as commodity related industry,” said Sturm. “We also receive inquiries from, and provide assistance to, mining and oil/gas sector clients.” ARC offers a full range of assistance to its clients, from the review of agency
permit applications, to pre-application planning, to assistance with compliance negotiations. Oftentimes permit writers and permitting agencies might mistakenly include unnecessary or burdensome components within a permit, which can cause the process to become more tedious and unfair to our clients. Sometimes a single line, or word, in a permit condition could drastically change the compliance demonstration process completely,” Sturm commented.

Permit Writing and Applications
When it comes to writing air permits, the task can be as complex as emission control monitoring itself, if not more so. Writing a permit properly is imperative to ensure the facility will not undergo compliance issues and further contingencies by the EPA once in operation. A lack of adequate air permit documentation could ultimately result in a loss of productivity, profit, and could lead to a facility’s shutdown. One of the most important things to remember when reviewing/writing an air permit is to make sure the actions involved are practically enforceable and that there is no vague language or terminology that could be convoluted or misunderstood somewhere along the line.

Agency personnel require submission of different forms to be filled out depending on the region, along with supporting equipment/unit calculations, including estimates and actual emission data. “We help companies research and find additional emission factors for varying potential of fugitive emissions, in addition to point source emissions calculations,” Sturm mentioned. Permit applications can involve a multitude of different research and emission factor calculations.

In addition, a process called emission modeling uses a computer software program to highlight key areas in need of repair or maintenance. The aim is to demonstrate – in a virtual way – how the facility will refrain from negatively affecting the environment it surrounds. “The application process can be a complex, time-consuming area. For example, engineering facilities may require additional flow diagrams, geographic references to stack locations or technical specifications about specific types of emissions. Sometimes an application may only be a page in length, and other times it is longer than 10 thousand pages in print and terabytes of data.

Writing, air permits

Pre-Planning & Construction
Other than Title V permitting, it is relevant to note that all U.S. facilities must evaluate and/or obtain Construction Air Permits before construction begins: “An approved Air Permit often must be in hand before the shovel hits the dirt or concrete to the floor,” said Sturm. Sturm and his team are well-versed in helping clients during the planning stages of construction contracts for this reason. On any given day, ARC may be handling approximately 10 to 20 draft permits. With a small team of five tasked to work on air permits specifically, each employee will regularly handle two permits simultaneously, sometimes more depending on volume. “It is so important to be detail-oriented when handling Air Permits, as one slight miscalculation can affect the entire timeline of a project,” said Sturm. “Right now, we have 10 to 20 permits in the hands of state or local agencies. These can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to be approved.” Sturm notes that if special considerations or modifications are needed, this can further lengthen the process. “If a facility receives a Notice of Violation by the EPA, we will assist the client in determining what is out of compliance. Sometimes this is due to inaccurate data readings, so we will review all the documentation and update accordingly to correct any misunderstandings.” Essentially, ARC acts as a mediator between the governmental agency and the client to find the best solution for all. In addition, ARC employs several well trained experts in their respective field to manage emission and safety concerns, including those related to energy, oil and gas industries.
As Sturm understands the difficulties surrounding Air Permitting, he has emphasized to his team the value of simplifying the process for clients. “We do our best to remove unnecessary and burdensome items that do not necessarily need to be focused on and give them a very targeted permit, for exactly what they need,” said Sturm. Sturm mentions that clients can be as involved with the permit process as they like. “Oftentimes, the clients will entrust us to the entire process on their behalf without explanation needed. Other clients call us regarding every change and request. As Air Permits can be quite confusing, we keep our line of communication open and try to look at things from the client’s perspective. An exceptional, positive experience for all is what we strive for.”

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