4 The record articles

10 Steps to Preparing a Successful Air Construction Permit Application for New Equipment

Posted: February 14th, 2023

Authors: Michael L. 

Are you planning on building a new greenfield facility that will have air emissions units or expanding your current facility with additional air emissions units?  If so, there is a good chance that you will need to obtain an air construction permit before commencing construction on your project.  Here is a list of 10 steps to preparing a complete and well-organized air permit application.

Step 1.  Identify your Emissions Units

Take an inventory of your planned equipment and identify all the potential sources of air emissions that will be involved in the project.  There are state-specific definitions of ‘emissions unit,’ but a general definition for emissions unit is any equipment capable of emitting air contaminants to the atmosphere.  Some examples of emissions units include kilns, boilers, engines, paint booths, chemical storage tanks or reactors, and haul roads.

Step 2.  Calculate Potential to Emit (PTE)

To determine whether or not you will need to apply for an air permit, you will need to calculate the potential to emit (PTE) for each pollutant associated with the new emissions units identified as part of the project.  Calculating the PTE will also determine what level of air permit will be appropriate for the project.  Potential emissions are different than actual emissions.  Generally, potential emissions are the maximum emissions that would result from the emissions unit at full capacity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Emissions factors, capture efficiencies, and control efficiencies used to calculate PTE can come from a variety of sources including (but not limited to) vendor guarantees, stack testing, state-approved emissions factors (e.g., from industry studies), or U.S. EPA’s AP-42 compilation of emissions factors for various industries and operations.

Step 3.  Check Exemptions

Once you have identified your emissions units and calculated their PTE, it’s time to review the list of exemptions in your local/state rules to check whether your project’s emissions units might fall under either a categorical or emissions threshold exemption.  Your new equipment might be on a list of emissions units that your agency categorically exempts from needing an air permit or your project’s potential emissions might be so low that you fall under the agency’s emissions thresholds that could eliminate the need for obtaining an air permit for the project.  This is an important step to ensure that you don’t waste time and energy if your project is exempt from air permitting requirements.

Step 4.  Determine the Permit Level you Need

Now that you have reviewed the exemptions and concluded that your project will need an air permit to construct, the next step will be to determine what level of construction permit is appropriate for your project.  Every agency has different naming conventions for levels of construction permits, but in general there are two basic levels of air permits:  minor and major.  This delineation is based on several factors, but mainly on whether your site is considered a minor or major source of emissions before the project and also the calculated PTE of all the emissions units involved in your project.  There are a number of other variables and layers of complexity that go into the selection of the type of air permit that your project may need, so if you are unsure or confused as to what type of air permit is right for your project, it is advisable to reach out to an air quality consultant to review your project’s details and help with this decision.  One final determination in this step is to review whether your facility is in an Environmental Justice (EJ) area as this could require you to engage in some public outreach regarding the details of the project and the permit application could face additional scrutiny by the agency.

Step 5.  Set up an Agency Meeting

If your emissions are close to or at a major source level, then setting up a meeting with the permitting agency is strongly encouraged (and sometimes required).  This meeting will serve to discuss the project details with the agency and confirm that the permit engineers at the agency are on the same page as you with regard to what type of application will be required and to also get a feel for how quickly the agency might be able to turn around your application and issue the air permit.  Major New Source Review (NSR) permits can sometimes take from 12-18 months to issue depending on the current backlog at the agency and the complexity of your application.  Minor air permits should not take as long and can usually be issued within 90-120 days depending on the agency and whether a public comment period is required. You should also determine whether the permitting agency has an expedited review program and whether your project can use it.

Step 6. Confirm Activities Allowed Prior to Obtaining Permit

You do not want to “commence construction” before you obtain the appropriate air permit from the state or local agency that has jurisdiction over your project.  Each agency has its own set of standards on what activities are allowed or prohibited before the air permit is obtained and often they are based on the type of permit you are seeking (minor versus major).  A typical example of what might be allowed before obtaining the air permit would be site clearing, grading, or entering into binding agreements or contractual obligations with vendors.  On the other hand, some examples of activities that may be prohibited before obtaining your air permit would include installation of equipment with air emissions or footings, pilings, or other materials to support these structures.  You will want to confirm with the agency what activities will be allowed prior to receiving your final construction permit for the project.

Step 7.  Communicate the Timeline to Stakeholders

Once you have confirmed with the agency the type of air permit that will be required for construction of the project, the estimated timeline for issuance of the permit by the agency, and the activities that are allowed prior to receipt of the construction permit, be sure to communicate these details to the project stakeholders.  It may come as a shock to some of the project stakeholders that for some major NSR air permit applications it can take up to 18 months (or sometime longer) to receive your final air permit.  The sooner you can communicate a realistic timeline of when your air permit will likely be issued, the better the project team can evaluate their project timelines and adjust appropriately.

Step 8.  Complete the Application

The next step is to complete the air permit application.  Your local agency will have likely have the appropriate forms and instructions posted on their website.  Typical air permit applications will include a narrative describing the process operations and equipment, a list of emissions units and control equipment with descriptions of emissions calculation methodologies, flow diagrams, site diagrams, PTE calculations, a regulatory applicability discussion, and the appropriate application forms. Sample calculations and copies of non-standard emissions factor references or vendor information are also a good idea to include for completeness. For some applications, there may be additional requirements such as air dispersion modeling or control technology analyses.  Minor source applications can usually be completed in 2-4 weeks while major source applications can take months depending on the specific requirements of the application and whether air dispersion modeling is required. The agency will review the application and may issue a request for additional information if your application is not complete or if something is not clear to them.

Step 9.  Maintain Agency Communication

It is very important to communicate with the agency throughout the application process as project details change or new information becomes available.  No matter the size of the project, things rarely go exactly as planned and so it is important to keep the agency informed of changes or additions to the project in a timely matter.  Try to avoid submitting your application with any big surprise elements that the agency is not expecting as this could throw off the issuance timeline.  Finally, respond to all agency questions in a timely manner as this will keep their attention on your project and allow for as efficient an application process as possible.

Step 10. Review the DRAFT Permit.

After you have submitted your air permit application, answered any follow up questions from the agency, and subsequently received your draft air permit for review, it is very important to read through the permit language to ensure that the information is accurate and you understand how you will comply with it.  If recordkeeping or monitoring requirements seem to be too onerous or permit limits too strict based on your experience or knowledge of similar air permits, it is perfectly acceptable to point this out in your review of the draft permit and start a dialogue with the agency on revisiting the language or limits.  This is your last chance to ‘push back’ on the permit language if there is something you feel the facility should challenge and it never hurts to initiate some discussions as to why you feel the need for changes to the permit language.

In summary, air permit applications can be challenging and complex and so we hope these 10 steps make your permit application experience a little bit smoother the next time your facility needs to apply for an air permit for new equipment.

Please contact Mike Liebert at mliebert@all4inc.com or 314-562-7925 or your ALL4 project manager for more information on air permitting strategy or for assistance developing your air construction permit application.


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