EPA starts voluntary program for Texas flexible permit holders

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Sept. 30
-- The US Environmental Protection Agency has set up a voluntary audit program to help industries operating in Texas with flexible permits obtain air-quality permits that meet state and federal requirements and the protections of the Clean Air Act. In its announcement earlier this month, EPA stated that it never approved in the state implementation plan the flexible-permit program administered Texas’s Commission on Environmental Quality (OGJ, Sept. 14, 2009, Newsletter).

The program is available for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register, which occurred in the Sept. 28, 2010, issue. Companies signing up in the first 45 days can take advantage of a reduced penalty incentive for potential violations.

"Our main objective is to get each and every permit holder a federally approved permit issued by the TCEQ," said EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz. The new EPA program “benefits companies by providing liability protection, and benefits communities by identifying clear enforceable pollution limits and developing projects to mitigate past environmental impacts."

The audit program offers a “covenant from civil enforcement” by the federal government, according to the announcement, for companies with flexible permits operated outside federal requirements, “provided that companies agree to and complete the proposed audit program.”

In addition, companies that enter the audit will no longer be subject to EPA's use of Title V tools for permits issued that do not contain all CAA requirements, it said.

How it works
Under the program, a third-party auditor will conduct an independent review of operations, modifications, and permitting activities that occurred since issuance of the flexible permit so that the federally applicable requirements can be identified for a new permit. These independent findings will be “directly transmitted” to the company and EPA and used to “establish new limits in state-issued permits.” EPA said it anticipates the audit process to take about a year.

The program requires participants to obtain federally approved state permits from the TCEQ. A company would enter into a consent agreement and final order (CAFO) with EPA “based on the findings of the third-party audit.” This audit program and CAFO would resolve any new-source review “noncompliance issues” that occurred while operating with the flexible permit “provided that the companies complete the audit program.”

EPA said the audit program “encourages companies to sponsor local community projects that will bring environmental and public health benefits” to people affected by the companies’ daily operations.

The federal audit program is one of two paths available for companies to make the transition of their flexible permits to a permit that meets federal and state requirements, said the agency.

“EPA is also inviting companies to contact the EPA Region 6 Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Division if they are interested in more direct negotiations with EPA that would result in federally-enforceable permits and resolution of non-compliance and Title V uncertainty,” said the announcement.

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