What's the difference between a permit and a certification?

Goodness

Member
Apr 8, 2024
15
2
Most people tend to mistake a certification for a permit.
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So I'm seriously asking...
What's the difference between a permit and a certification?
 
Location
United States
You have to get permits before you start working on something and you get certification after completing the project. Permit is approval to get started and certification validates the completion.
 
I look at it this way, a permit is usually something you're required to obtain for certain means. But a certification is voluntary, and usually not always needed. A certification usually verifies something or someone's work as legitimate. You don't always need certification to obtain a permit to my knowledge, but some permits may require you to be certified in the field before you can obtain a permit.
 
A permit or a certification for what? Generally in air permitting, I've seen the word "certification" for two different things.

All permitting agencies have, for lack of a better word, a "baseline" or "main tier" permit that most facilities will be required to get (most agencies have multiple tiers of permitting based on the severity of emissions). If you are a small enough operation that you do not meet the thresholds that require you to get a permit, they will consider you "Exempt" or "De Minimis" (Texas has a smaller tier, or "mini-permit" level as I like to call it, called a "Permit By Rule"). However, most of these agencies will still require you to submit some sort of documentation or technical information so that they can certify you as "Exempt" or "De Minimis".

The second use of the term I've seen is similar but different. Some facilities will intentionally modify or restrict their operations to specifically avoid a certain higher level of permitting (allowed by some agencies but not everywhere). All permits are based on "Potential to Emit" (PTE), meaning what is the absolute amount of emissions you could produce if you were running on absolute maximum capacity, 24/7/365 - even if you would never every operate that way. Whatever the resulting emission rates would be running at full capacity is what your permit is based off of. So say during normal operations, you would emit around 27 tons per year (TPY) of VOC's, but your PTE could be over 100TPY which would require you to get a Title V permit (which you would want to avoid if possible). You could set your permit limits to something lower than that 100TPY PTE and certify those emissions, which is like a legally binding promise that you will operate in such a way to never exceed your artificially lowered emission limits - And there will be swift, severe consequences if you do so.

AirTechSolutions@myyahoo.com
 
Thanks @Air_Tech_Solutions, for reviewing those instances in which "certifications," rather than "permits," apply in air quality permitting. You're really great at explaining this stuff! Personally, I've always understood "permits" to be the actual government authorizations, whereas "certifications" are used in tandem with permits to confirm that certain permit requirements or compliance items have been met.

I can definitely understand use of certifications in the second example you gave, i.e., a facility certifying for an emissions level below their PTE. I think having mechanisms like this in a permit program is a really big deal in terms of avoiding/minimizing environmental effects. The fact that air quality agencies are able to use certifications as a negotiating tool to get applicants to commit to lower emissions levels in exchange for reduced permitting requirements has got to have led to a lot of avoided emissions, I would think.

However, I realizing I'm speculating a bit here about how this all works in practice. The example you gave above involved a facility emitting 27TPY during normal operations but having a PTE of over 100TPY. Is the reverse ever true where a facility would emit, say, 120TPY during normal operations (and maybe that's their PTE) and is incentivized to reduce normal emissions and certify at, say, 99TPY, thereby avoiding the need for a Title V permit? Are these certifications ever used to motivate applicants to reduce their emissions in this kind of way?

The first example you gave is also interesting and I know different jurisdictions vary in regard to whether they feel the need to "certify" exemptions. We have exemptions and exclusions at the Corps but don't require that people using them contact us or obtain any kind of certification from us. If you're carrying out an exempted activity, you just need to maintain proper documentation justifying the exemption's use. Personally, I feel like this kind of thing - essentially requiring authorization for something that's already been authorized - can be excessively bureaucratic, at least in some cases I've seen here in California.
 
Well, avoiding Title V permitting is the incentive, but in my experience no regulatory agency actively promotes lowering emissions. Of course everyone still has to meet regulations and cannot harm/ health hazards to the surrounding community.

Got it, thanks. Bottom line is that these certifications are used as more of an administrative tool for properly regulating facilities that have higher, Title V-level PTEs but that are, in reality, operating more like minor source facilities. Makes sense.

Interesting to hear, though, that working with companies/facilities to lower emissions isn't standard practice for air quality agencies. That's quite different from my experience administering Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. At the Corps, we work with applicants to reduce/offset impacts to aquatic resources by applying what's known as the mitigation sequence ("avoid, minimize, compensate"). Permit applicants must first demonstrate that they've avoided impacts to the maximum extent practicable. We next explore measures to minimize remaining unavoidable impacts through project modifications and permit conditions. After avoidance and minimization have been fully explored, applicants are required to compensate remaining impacts through compensatory mitigation requirements (e.g., restoring an aquatic resource on- or off-site).

If air quality agencies aren't working with applicants to lower emissions, I guess I'm wondering what types of conditions get added to air permits to mitigate environmental damage? I suppose, for example, the permit conditions might stipulate what times of day emissions could occur (e.g., to ensure emissions don't go above a certain level at any point in a given area), right? What sort of influence do air quality agencies exert through permitting to promote real-world environmental benefits?
 

What's the difference between a permit and a certification?​

Good Morning.
To get permit and pay for it (issue) means you are ready to call for an Inspection and start the work. You have 6 months to start the work and 18 months to finish it. After final inspection you can get a certificate - ready to be occupied.
 
Got it, thanks. Bottom line is that these certifications are used as more of an administrative tool for properly regulating facilities that have higher, Title V-level PTEs but that are, in reality, operating more like minor source facilities. Makes sense.

Interesting to hear, though, that working with companies/facilities to lower emissions isn't standard practice for air quality agencies. That's quite different from my experience administering Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. At the Corps, we work with applicants to reduce/offset impacts to aquatic resources by applying what's known as the mitigation sequence ("avoid, minimize, compensate"). Permit applicants must first demonstrate that they've avoided impacts to the maximum extent practicable. We next explore measures to minimize remaining unavoidable impacts through project modifications and permit conditions. After avoidance and minimization have been fully explored, applicants are required to compensate remaining impacts through compensatory mitigation requirements (e.g., restoring an aquatic resource on- or off-site).

If air quality agencies aren't working with applicants to lower emissions, I guess I'm wondering what types of conditions get added to air permits to mitigate environmental damage? I suppose, for example, the permit conditions might stipulate what times of day emissions could occur (e.g., to ensure emissions don't go above a certain level at any point in a given area), right? What sort of influence do air quality agencies exert through permitting to promote real-world environmental benefits?
Just to be clear, the agencies do not "actively promotes lowering emissions" but that doesn't mean there is no mitigation/ prevention of environmental damage. The permits - especially higher level permits like Title V - are exactly that. The higher your potential emissions, the more permit special conditions, compliance demonstrations, and restrictions you must adhere to. And there are plenty of limitations - too many to go into detail here - that are a flat out "no" and a permit will get rejected. It's not like companies can do whatever they want so long as they submit paperwork, if that was the impression that you were getting.
 
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