Air Pollution Permitting – The most important permitting process that gets the most overlooked

Let’s be honest, air quality is probably the last thing on your mind. You have products to move, an entire workforce to manage, purchase orders to issue, marketing, sales, clients to keep happy, bosses to keep happy, shareholders to keep happy, and you’re taking your kid to soccer practice at 6pm. Then you get a surprise investigation from the department of environmental quality. You find out you are operating without and air quality permit, and you’re looking at a potential enforcement action with a fine in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Most people would be surprised just how many activities produce emissions. We all know the more obvious pollution sources, like for example oil & gas activities, dust from construction, power plants, and pollution from transportation such as cars, 18-wheelers, boats, trains, and planes. However, there are a multitude of lesser-known sources of pollution, such as building furniture, any activities involving painting, pharmaceutical production, gypsum board making, barge cleaning, building hot tubs for your back yard or patio, animal (or human) cremation, and even crops and raising livestock among many, many other activities that all generate air pollutants.

Several agencies regulate air pollution and issue air permits, the most well-known being the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who oversees environmental compliance on a federal level. However, almost all air permits are exclusively issued and regulated by state or regional agencies, such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in Texas or the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in southern California.

Now, there are of course exceptions. Chances are you don’t need an air permit for your home or outdoor barbeque pit. Check with your regulatory agency (again, which one depends on your location) to find out what those exceptions are, and if you meet them. Most agencies outline certain criteria you can meet in order to be exempt from an air permit, or even provide a list of facilities or activities that are automatically considered “De Minimis” or permit exempt.

So, the first step to figuring out if an air permit is necessary for your facility, institution, or operation is to determine if you create any air pollution at all, and to calculate just how much air pollution you potentially can make. Unfortunately, averages are not going to cut it - You are going to need to know the maximum amount of pollution possible from your facility. This is what permits are based on, not the “average” amount of pollution made under “normal” conditions. However, most agencies still let you account for limiting factors such as operating hours and pollution control devices when trying to determine this maximum pollution value.

Then, there are various levels of air permits. Facilities that are “Major Sources” are required to get federal, or Title V (“Title Five”) permits, while minor sources qualify for one of many subcategories of minor level permits. The EPA has designated a “major source” as a facility that can emit 100 tons per year or more of any of the criteria pollutants, which are Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Oxides (NOX), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Particulate Matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (PM10), and Particulate Matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM2.5). The major source threshold for Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) are 10 tons per year of just one single pollutants, or 25 tons per year for all HAPs combined. There are, of course, exceptions to these limits.

Sound complicated? Environmental consultants like Air Tech Solutions exist to assist with all of the technical aspects of putting together and submitting air permitting applications to just about any regulatory agency. Find out if you need an air permit today. Doing your due diligence now will save you a ton of money in fines, or even save your facility from getting shut down, in the future.



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Great article, thank you for sharing! Air pollution is a serious problem all around the world, and it comes back to us to help stop or slow the pollution down. No matter what we do, there will always be some form of pollution with the work being done out there. But, the more safeguards and regulations in place, we can slow the process down a bit.
 
Everything puts out pollution, humans just breathing puts off pollution. The livestock we raise puts off pollution. It's different amounts of pollution for each thing, but it's still pollution.

Even the electric cars we want to replace gas cars with, put off pollution. The only thing we can do, is regulate what we use, how we use it and when, so that we slow the damage down. We sadly won't be able to stop it, but we can slow it down. And that comes from requiring permits for certain things, and limits in other regards.
 
Most people would be surprised just how many activities produce emissions. We all know the more obvious pollution sources, like for example oil & gas activities, dust from construction, power plants, and pollution from transportation such as cars, 18-wheelers, boats, trains, and planes. However, there are a multitude of lesser-known sources of pollution, such as building furniture, any activities involving painting, pharmaceutical production, gypsum board making, barge cleaning, building hot tubs for your back yard or patio, animal (or human) cremation, and even crops and raising livestock among many, many other activities that all generate air pollutants.

Thanks for emphasizing this. Like you said, there are large companies/industries where air pollution is an obvious and integral part of business operations (e.g., power plants). Even though such companies would generally be considered "Major Sources," I imagine that permitting would be relatively straightforward for them in the sense that there'd never be any question about whether an air permit is required. I imagine that such companies have dedicated staff and consultants who are in regular coordination with EPA to ensure timely renewal of permits and proper documentation of compliance with permit conditions.

The greatest legal vulnerability would seem to lie with smaller companies that have adopted a new air pollution-generating process (e.g., furniture, painting, etc.) but who lack the in-house expertise to recognize that the process is subject to air quality regulations. Figuring out whether a permit is required (i.e., knowing and documenting air permit exemptions) and, if so, providing the regulator with the necessary technical information (e.g., calculating the maximum air pollution that would be generated) can be a complicated task. For some types of permits, companies can sometimes get away with having non-expert staff coordinate with the regulatory agency to figure out what's needed to get the permit issued. Such an approach seems less practical when it comes to air permitting given the depth of regulatory knowledge and technical information involved. To ensure they don't inadvertently get slapped with a violation, I agree that companies new to air pollution regulation are generally best served hiring an expert to collect the necessary data and coordinate with the agency on their behalf.
 
Thanks for emphasizing this. Like you said, there are large companies/industries where air pollution is an obvious and integral part of business operations (e.g., power plants). Even though such companies would generally be considered "Major Sources," I imagine that permitting would be relatively straightforward for them in the sense that there'd never be any question about whether an air permit is required. I imagine that such companies have dedicated staff and consultants who are in regular coordination with EPA to ensure timely renewal of permits and proper documentation of compliance with permit conditions.

The greatest legal vulnerability would seem to lie with smaller companies that have adopted a new air pollution-generating process (e.g., furniture, painting, etc.) but who lack the in-house expertise to recognize that the process is subject to air quality regulations. Figuring out whether a permit is required (i.e., knowing and documenting air permit exemptions) and, if so, providing the regulator with the necessary technical information (e.g., calculating the maximum air pollution that would be generated) can be a complicated task. For some types of permits, companies can sometimes get away with having non-expert staff coordinate with the regulatory agency to figure out what's needed to get the permit issued. Such an approach seems less practical when it comes to air permitting given the depth of regulatory knowledge and technical information involved. To ensure they don't inadvertently get slapped with a violation, I agree that companies new to air pollution regulation are generally best served hiring an expert to collect the necessary data and coordinate with the agency on their behalf.
This is exactly right, and I would say a majority of my personal experience comes from smaller companies that were caught off guard. Unfortunately, too many of those smaller company's were investigated and received a violation first, and that's how they found out they needed to obtain an air permit.
 
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