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EPA's 'permit-to-pollute' rules could catch smaller processors.

Processors should pay close attention to new operating permit rules stemming from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, proposed in April by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All states will have to require all major industrial sources of air pollution in the U.S. to obtain operating permits-in effect, "permits to pollute." In case you think your operation is too small to qualify as a "major source," think again. Under the law's new, lower emissions thresholds, even smaller companies may emit enough pollutants to earn the "major source" title.

In the past, a major source was defined as a plant emitting more than 100 tons/yr of a smog-causing pollutant. But under the new law, the definition becomes contingent upon the air-quality classification of the area where the source is located:

* If the regional air pollution is termed "Marginal" with respect to Clean Air Act compliance, a "major source" is one that emits 110 tons per year (TPY). These are given three years to comply with the new rules.

* For regions with a "Moderate" level of pollution by EPA definition, a major source is one that emits 100 TPY, and is allowed six years for compliance.

* In a "Serious" air-pollution region, you're a major" polluter if you emit only 50 TPY, and you have nine years to clean up your act."

* In a "Severe' air-pollution area, 25 TPY emissions constitutes a "major source"; compliance deadline is 15 years.

* Finally, if you're in an "Extreme" air-pollution area, you're a "major" polluter if you emit only 10 TPY, but you have 20 years to comply.

Major sources will be required to reduce emissions equivalent to "Maximum Achievable Control Technology" (MACT), as prescribed by EPA. EPA won't specify MACT standards for 189 listed air toxics until November.

However, in early June, EPA proposed offering polluters a six-year extension on meeting emissions standards in exchange for voluntarily committing to 90-95% emission cuts before the final regulations are announced in November. EPA sources say at least some MACT standards will be tougher than those voluntary 90-95% cuts. Such a voluntary commitment, once made, is said to be legally enforceable, but a company can back out before the final regulations take effect in December 1993.

In effect, it's a guessing game, since no one knows yet what the MACT standards will be. Although smaller companies might benefit most from the voluntary program, SPI sources say it is unlikely that smaller companies would be able to develop the necessary emissions data and clean-up program before the November deadline.

Because EPA believes that trying to cover all pollution sources in the U.S. at the outset of the program would be impractical, the Agency is proposing to defer permit requirements for "non-major" pollution sources for five years. However, this is not a sweeping deferral for all small businesses.

Besides MACT performance standards for air toxics, the program includes an "annual improvement" program for reducing smog. Currently, there are 189 toxics on the list of chemicals to be regulated, but there is the potential to add many more. Some on the list used in plastics include styrene, methyl ethyl ketone, benzene, toluene, TDI, cadmium and lead compounds, benzene, and caprolactam.


The new EPA rules leave it up to the states to enforce the program under EPA guidance and supervision. Although EPA requires the states to establish a small-business compliance assistance program by November 1992, there are numerous worrisome aspects of the Clean Air rules. One is that the states can define their own permit programs, MACT and major source definitions, and fees, fines and penalties. Though these must be at least as stringent as the EPA plan, SPI expects that many state programs will be even more stringent Some states, for example, have gone beyond the EPA's air toxics list to include acetone, while others have defined a major source as a facility emitting only 1 TPY of listed pollutant.

In addition, if your company is cited for a violation at one plant, the whole company may be barred from participating in certain federal programs. Also, citizens can bring suit against your company for violations and receive either a portion of the penalties or a $10,000 bounty. States will have sanctions levied against them if they do not create and enforce a permit program.

Once EPA approves state programs, industrial sources have one year to submit their permit applications to state or local governments. All permits must be in place and legally binding throughout the country by November 1997, according to EPA. An annual permit fee of at least $25 per ton of each regulated pollutant will be required. Failure to comply with any aspect of the permit program reportedly could result in stiff fines and possible jail terms.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act regulation
Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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