EPA: Flexible Air Permits Enable Increased Pollution Prevention, Economic Competitiveness

EPA is finalizing changes and clarifications to air quality permitting rules to encourage greater use of flexible air permits. According to EPA’s assessment, flexible air permits can provide significant environmental and economic benefits while reducing administrative workload for permitting authorities and facilities.

The rule defines a flexible air permit as “a title V permit that by its design facilitates flexible operations at a source, allowing it to be market-responsive while ensuring equal or greater environmental protection than that achieved by conventional permits.”

This final action affects both EPA’s operating permits and New Source Review programs. A facility with a flexible permit would explain its anticipated operational and construction changes for the duration of the permit term. The state, local or tribal air quality permitting authority would include permit conditions to ensure protection of public health and the environment for all of those changes.

EPA spent more than a decade participating in pilot permit activity to test and evaluate “various permitting approaches that afford operational flexibility.” In a review of six pilot permits, EPA found environmental, informational, economic and administrative benefits. For example, sources achieved 30 to 80 percent reductions in plant-wide emissions or emissions per unit of production; permitting authorities and the public received better information about the scope and effects of planned changes; companies were able to compete effectively in the market and retained or created jobs; and reduced administrative costs over the life of the permits.

These flexible permits do not provide approval for changes not within the scope of conditions considered at the time of the permit application. Facilities must still meet their requirements under the Clean Air Act.

“We intend that this rulemaking provide a more positive foundation upon which [flexible air permits] can be considered by sources and permitting authorities and, as appropriate, be designed and implemented,” the rule read.

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