President speaks on NAAQS, SIPs, and Regional Haze Rule
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April 16, 2018
President speaks on NAAQS, SIPs, and Regional Haze Rule

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s commitment to easing up on the federal government’s implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) received a strong endorsement with a new memo from President Donald Trump.

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In its top item, the memo directs the EPA administrator to accelerate federal review of state implementation plans (SIPs) states develop to achieve attainment with the NAAQS (mainly the ozone and particulate matter standards under CAA Section 110). Second, the president says the administrator must review all federal implementation plans (FIPs) issued by the Agency since 2007 under the CAA’s Regional Haze Program (Section 167A) and work with the states to replace FIPs with SIPs.

The EPA must issue FIPs under both Section 110 and Section 167A when a state’s SIP is not approved by the Agency and the state does not correct the deficiencies in a given time period. Pruitt has forcefully condemned Obama’s administration promulgation of 50 FIPs, about 10 times the number of FIPs by the three previous administrations combined. A news release issued in conjunction with the president’s memo says the current EPA has turned one FIP into a SIP every month.

The memo also provides the EPA impetus to streamline CAA preconstruction permitting of new, reconstructed, and rebuilt industrial facilities.

“These actions are intended to ensure that EPA carries out its core missions of protecting the environment and improving air quality in accord with statutory requirements, while reducing unnecessary impediments to new manufacturing and business expansion essential for a growing economy,” states the memo.

Review times to be condensed

The memo specifically directs the administrator to take the following actions, “as practicable and consistent with the law”:

  • Endeavor in all cases to take final action on SIPs within 18 months of the date of the submission of a SIP. 
  • Endeavor to take final action on applications for preconstruction permits, as appropriate and consistent with law, within 1 year of the date of receiving a complete application. 
  • Take several actions with regard to air pollution events that may affect a state’s NAAQS attainment but that are beyond the control of those states, mainly exceptional events (e.g., uncontrolled forest fires or high winds). Specifically, the administrator “shall endeavor” to take final action within 120 days of a state’s complete exceptional-event submission and also use available monitoring data and modeling tools to assist states in identifying potential exceptional events and international emissions that may affect concentrations of criteria pollutants. 
  • Ensure that the EPA continues to assess background concentrations and sources of pollution outside of the control of state and local air agencies that may affect implementation or application of Sections 110 and 167A. 
  • Where modeling is necessary for permitting decisions, for SIPs, or for exceptional event or international emissions demonstrations, seek to ensure that EPA’s applicable modeling tools are sufficiently accurate for their intended application and that the relevant state or local air agency, or permit applicant as applicable, is consulted regarding whether the use of modeling projections in lieu of monitored data is appropriate. 
  • Continue to take actions, such as setting significant impact levels and related values, that enable the EPA to clearly identify the types or classes of permitting and related decisions that do not require modeling or that can rely on streamlined modeling approaches.  This requirement is especially important in areas for which the EPA concludes that permits need to demonstrate compliance with the NAAQS that have yet to be fully implemented. 
  • Provide flexibility to states with regard to identifying and achieving offsets, including by allowing intrastate and regional interprecursor trading.  These efforts should include development and implementation of flexible offset policies in rural areas where few facilities exist to generate offsets to promote their economic expansion.  The administrator must examine steps to help regions and states benefit from flexibilities available in the permitting process for new facilities and projects.

The memo also seeks to modify past EPA practices that have troubled the states regarding the NAAQS and Regional Haze Rule, including slow promulgation of new implementing regulations and guidance and reviews and the possible revision and rescission of past agency documents that relate to the submission and consideration of preconstruction permit applications. 

The president’s memo is here.

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