Immediate Effects of New Air Quality Standards

Posted on 3/12/2013 by Scott C. Dunsmore

Q. I saw that the EPA published a final rule revising the ambient air quality standard for particulate matter and that the new standard is effective on March 18, 2013. Will this immediately affect New Source Review applications?
A. Some aspects of this final rule will have an immediate impact on New Source Review (NSR) permitting, and other aspects will impact air quality control regions in the future.
The EPA published a final rule on January 15, 2013 that revised the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) at 40 CFR Part 50 for fine particulates. Fine particulates are those with a diameter of less than or equal to 2.5 µm. The rule lowered the annual health standard from 15 µg/m3 to 10 µg/m3.
Re-designating Regions
In order to determine the full impact on the NSR program, states must evaluate whether their air quality control regions (AQCR) will meet the new annual limit. States must submit their recommended attainment/non-attainment determinations to the EPA by December 2013. The EPA will evaluate these recommendations and publish its final determinations in December 2014. The resulting designations are scheduled to take effect in early 2015 and will appear as a final rule in the Federal Register.
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Newly Designated Non-Attainment Areas
A change in designation from attainment to non-attainment in a given AQCR may result in many stationary sources meeting the definition of a “major” source of fine particulates. The New Source Review program has different definitions for “major stationary sources,” depending on the air quality status in the region of the stationary source. For some stationary sources, a change of designation may shift the default potential-to-emit threshold from > 250 tons/year in the “attainment” definition to the standard threshold in the “non-attainment” rules (> 100 tons/year). So, it will be important for existing stationary sources that emit particulates to look for the final determinations, especially if the AQCR has been re-designated as a non-attainment area.
Because many existing minor sources may now be re-designated as major sources, these newly regulated major sources will face a higher likelihood of needing NSR pre-construction permits for future “major modifications,” as defined at 40 CFR 51.165.
PSD Permit Applications
For new or existing major stationary sources of particulates in AQCRs that are currently designated as being in attainment with the NAAQS, there will be a more immediate impact on future modifications. Under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program, which governs attainment areas, major sources must demonstrate that the construction project will not cause or contribute to a violation of the NAAQS or any maximum allowable pollution increase (i.e., the region’s allowable increment).
This demonstration is typically based on the air quality standard in place when the pre-construction permit is issued. However, the EPA is grandfathering permit applications that were submitted by December 14, 2012 or for those sources for which a public notice for a draft permit was published before the effective date of this rule (March 18, 2013). The grandfathered sources will be allowed to make the demonstration based on the previous 2006 standard. All non-grandfathered new PSD applications will need to make the demonstration based on the new annual health standard.
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