Reversing a long-standing interpretation of its own regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued "guidance" to its regional offices and states and seeks public comment on its intent to ease air-pollution permit rules for facility construction under the federal Clean Air Act.
The guidance, sent March 25, would allow work to begin on major projects that would be new stationary air pollution sources—such as power plants, industrial boilers, and manufacturing facilities, or modifications to those—before obtaining preconstruction permits required under the federal law's New Source Review program.
That program is a set of regulations under the law to protect public health and the environment from air pollution when major new air emissions sources are built or modified.
Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation during the second Obama administration and now director of Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, says the new guidance doesn’t consider that “if a company has already sunk a lot of capital into a project, it’s very hard [for a permit authority] to say no to a permit.
Additionally, once foundations and permanent structures begin to be put in place, technologies available for emissions control may be more limited.
Implementing some of the best available control technologies required under the clean-air law might not be possible on a project already well underway, McCabe says, or they would be more expensive because of the way the structure has been built.
“Your options are much more open” before construction begins, she adds.