EPA proposes revisions to three NSR components

Sept. 11, 2006
The US Environmental Protection Agency Sept. 8 proposed changes to its New Source Review permitting that were immediately cheered by the oil industry and other and condemned by environmentalists.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 11 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency Sept. 8 proposed changes to its New Source Review permitting that were immediately cheered by the oil industry and other and condemned by environmentalists.

The changes would help plant operators determine whether modification plans would trigger NSR requirements while accelerating investments in cleaner energy-saving techniques, EPA said. They also could lower consumers' energy costs, it added.

Existing permit limits would not be affected, but the changes would encourage investment in additional refining capacity, make industries more efficient, and reduce natural gas demand, it indicated.

EPA said the proposal addresses three components:
-- Debottlenecking, in which a plant's owner or operator proposes modifying one part of the facility to increase throughput or production in other unchanged sections, effectively making the plant more efficient overall. Under the proposal, the unchanged sections would not be subject to NSR if their emissions already have been taken into account in a prior permit or regulatory action.

-- Aggregation, under which EPA proposes clarifying how NSR applies when multiple projects are implemented at an installation. Essentially, the federal agency said such projects could be treated as a single project if one of them depends on another. The proposal lists ways in which EPA would determine this situation.

-- Project netting, in which EPA proposes simplifying the calculation step in which it determines whether NSR applies when emissions increases and decreases are combined.

EPA said it has implemented aggregation and project netting on a case-by-case basis previously. It said it would take comments on the proposals for 60 days following their publication in the Federal Register.

Oil industry groups applauded the proposals. The American Petroleum Institute said while it had not reviewed them in detail, "such steps stand to help improve the outlook for US refiners for increasing capacity and enable capacity expansion projects to come on line more quickly."

National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Bob Slaughter said the proposals would provide improvements to EPA's NSR permitting program, which would "provide increased certainty to oil refiners, petrochemical manufacturers, and other key industries as they modify facilities to meet increasing demand for their products."

He said in every congressional committee and subcommittee hearing where NPRA officials have testified in the past year, federal lawmakers have stressed the importance of increasing domestic refining capacity. "The new EPA proposals will help the industry respond to these official calls," Slaughter said.

The National Association of Manufacturers said the proposals would improve national air quality while making US businesses more competitive.

"The current NSR program often inhibits technological innovation," said NAM Pres. John Engler. "EPA's proposal is an important step toward cutting the red tape in the regulatory process and ensuring that the regulations are understandable."

The chief minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had a different reaction. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) said EPA's proposals "certainly display the persistence of the Bush administration's attempts to riddle the NSR with polluter-friendly loopholes."

"We're still studying them. But we might have some concerns since EPA developed these proposals behind closed doors without input from state and local air quality administrators," S. William Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officers, told OGJ on Sept. 11.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].