Coming Soon: Cumulative Impact Analyses (CIA) for Certain Categories of Air Quality Permits
Posted: November 18th, 2021Authors: Gina M.
ALL4 has seen interest and activity around Cumulative Impacts Analyses (CIA) for air emissions sources lately, both at the federal and state level. For example, the Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, signed “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” into law on March 26, 2021. This act requires the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) “to evaluate and seek public comment on the incorporation of cumulative impact analyses in the assessment and identification of certain categories of permits and approvals.” Additionally, the Act requires the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to develop regulations to guide similar CIAs to be conducted as part of environmental impact reports (EIR) submitted to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office. MassDEP held its first official stakeholder meeting to discuss and seek input on the new provisions for CIA on August 31, 2021.
CIA can be defined as, “the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions”. Throughout this stakeholder process, MassDEP has discussed various key items to be considered for the CIA Process:
- What types of impacts should be included (environmental, health and safety, etc.)?
- How should a CIA be conducted?
- What types of air permits should require a CIA?
- What criteria should MassDEP use to make permit decisions? Should this be qualitative, quantitative, or both?
The general idea is that MassDEP will hold monthly stakeholder meetings where members can present and discuss information, different policy options used in other states, and solicit input. The proposed timeline to have a CIA conceptual model and include public involvement in the CIA process is January 2022. The draft regulation is to be proposed by October 2022, and public hearings and the comment period will occur from November 2022 to December 2022. The final regulations and guidance will be developed by March 2023 and by April 2023 the regulations will be promulgated, and guidance will be issued.
New Jersey is another state that has recently developed environmental justice legislation that includes a CIA component. Permits for new facilities and expansions are subject to an environmental justice review and an impact assessment. An administrative order was recently issued which requires that issued permits shall include, to the maximum extent allowable by applicable statutes and laws, any special conditions necessary to avoid or minimize environmental or public health stressors on an overburdened community.
On the federal side of things, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has continued to work on its guidelines for analyzing cumulative risks from environmental hazards. The Office of Civil Rights is working on cumulative impacts guidance for agency funding recipients to help ensure collective permitting and other environmental actions do not disproportionately harm minorities. U.S. EPA scientists have also drafted “EPA Guidelines for Cumulative Risk Assessment Planning and Problem Formulation” that are in the process of being peer reviewed. U.S. EPA expects to release both documents by the end of 2021.
The federal implementation of guidance around cumulative risk assessments (CRA) is looked at as potentially the first real rulemaking by the administration to apply additional requirements to the environmental permitting process around Environmental Justice (EJ). First floated by the Bush administration in 2003, it was part of the Obama administration’s environmental agenda in 2014 but it stalled and was tabled. One of the current Administrator’s priorities is to expand consideration of cumulative risk in permitting and enforcement decisions. A CRA would require an assessment of cumulative risk from multiple overlapping environmental hazards:
- Air quality
- Chemical mixtures
- Non-chemical stressors (higher at-risk local population, etc.).
The challenge in the development of a CRA policy over the years has been how to calculate a score for the non-chemical stressor portion of the analysis. These stressors include many of the EJ indicators that drive the definition of whether a community should be considered overburdened and are critical to how this guidance might further the administration’s goals in that area. How they are scored will likely become a point of debate once the draft policy comes out.
As states and U.S. EPA begin to implement plans for further analyses, studies, and rulemakings related to CIA and CRA, ALL4 will provide updates and insight on how these actions could affect your operations. If you have any questions on these developments, contact Gina Maiorana at 601-422-1180 or your ALL4 project manager for more information.