4 The record articles

Blindsided: Your Facility’s Emergency Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine(s) (RICE) Could Potentially Cause a Compliance Issue That You Didn’t See Coming

Posted: January 9th, 2012

Author: All4 Staff 

The Proverbial Skeleton in Your Facility’s Closet

They’re there, lurking in the shadows.  The nondescript metal box or hulking chunk of ancient metal stoically waiting out back behind the office building, maintenance shed, or material storage silo.  It might be shiny and new, freshly delivered from the manufacturer ready to be fired-up and debugged for the very first time.  Or more than likely, it’s amongst the oldest pieces of equipment at your facility; installed during the original construction or soon thereafter.  Its parts were possibly cast and configured before you were born.  Old or new, you walk past it every day without a second thought.  After all, it just showed up one day because the operations department decided the facility needed more reserve power, or it’s been there since before you were hired.  Either way, the maintenance, property management, and/or operations personnel fire it up on a regular basis to make sure it’s functioning properly, but that’s it.  It’s an emergency reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE), used for emergency purposes only; to provide power to the office or manufacturing building in case the lights go out, to power the water pumps in case there’s a flood or a fire, or to keep the kiln turning in the event of utility power loss.  In any given year it may only actually operate 50-100 hours, maybe less.  That’s nothing.  It’s not a significant source.  And it definitely doesn’t require air quality permitting.  Right??  Right?!? Maybe, but maybe not…

The Times They Are a-Changing

It’s understandable that certain operations, environmental, and/or property managers would overlook or be totally unaware of the potential negative compliance implications that an unpermitted emergency RICE could pose to a facility.  Frequently, emergency RICE, except those larger RICE of a size that demand attention, fall through the regulatory “cracks” and are unintentionally ignored both by a facility and the associated regulatory entity.  Even though regulations do currently exist that address the operation of RICE, including those used for emergency purposes, the regulations have historically been “hit or miss;” regulating only a subset (i.e., certain types and sizes of RICE operated at certain types of facilities) of the total population of existing RICE.  This has allowed industrial and nonindustrial facilities alike to install, operate, and in many cases promptly forget about a large number of emergency RICE.

Traditionally, emergency RICE units have not been a high priority for agencies either.  Enforcement/inspection officers have been known to unintentionally walk right by an emergency RICE that, unbeknownst to them and the facility, isn’t permitted but should be.  Moreover, these same enforcement/inspection officers, on their way to perform their permitted facility inspections quite possibly traveled by several nonindustrial and/or nonmanufacturing, and probably unintentionally unpermitted, facilities or office buildings in which are operated any number of unpermitted emergency RICE that should be permitted.  Emergency RICE units simply have not been considered significant sources in the past and have been the unintended beneficiary of collective regulatory neglect.  However, the times they are a-changing.

Recent amendments and revisions to existing Federal regulations (i.e., 40 CFR Part 60, Subparts IIII and JJJJ, and 40 CFR Part 63, Subpart ZZZZ) have vastly expanded the number of regulated RICE, including emergency RICE.  U.S. EPA revised and expanded the applicability of 40 CFR Part 63, Subpart ZZZZ (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for Stationary Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines, the so called RICE MACT) twice in 2010 and then revised 40 CFR Part 60, Subparts IIII and JJJJ (Standards of Performance for Stationary Compression Ignition Internal Combustion Engines and Standards of Performance for Stationary Spark Ignition Internal Combustion Engines, respectively) too, just for good measure.  Such changes caused many facilities to scramble to evaluate applicability, submit notifications, and get about laying the foundation for future compliance demonstrations throughout 2009 and 2010.

A brief recap of recent amendments and revisions to existing Federal regulations affecting emergency RICE announced in the last year follows below:

  • In March 2010, U.S. EPA promulgated revisions to 40 CFR Part 63, Subpart ZZZZ (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Stationary Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines) for existing stationary compression ignition (CI) RICE that (1) are located at area sources of HAP emissions; (2) have a site rating of less than or equal to 500 brake horsepower and are located at major sources of HAP emissions; and (3) are existing non-emergency stationary CI engines greater than 500 brake horsepower that are located at major sources of HAP emissions.  The revised NESHAP for CI RICE was effective on May 3, 2010 with a compliance date of May 3, 2013.  Initial notifications were due August 31, 2010.
  • In August 2010, U.S. EPA promulgated additional revisions to the NESHAP for existing stationary spark ignition (SI) RICE that, similar to the March 2010 final NESHAP, (1) are located at area sources of HAP emissions, and (2) have a site rating of less than or equal to 500 brake horsepower and are located at major sources of HAP emissions.  The revised NESHAP for SI RICE was effective on October 19, 2010 with a compliance date of October 19, 2013.  Initial notifications are due 120 days after the rule becomes effective or February 15, 2011.
  • In May 2010, U.S. EPA proposed amendments to 40 CFR Part 60, Subparts IIII (Standards of Performance for Stationary Compression Ignition Internal Combustion Engines) and JJJJ (Standards of Performance for Stationary Spark Ignition Internal Combustion Engines).  The proposed amendments would implement more stringent standards for stationary CI engines with displacements greater than or equal to 10 liters per cylinder and less than 30 liters per cylinder and clarify the applicability of Subparts IIII and JJJJ to the installation and operation of temporary engines.  These proposed amendments have yet to be finalized.

RICE affected by the March and August 2010 revisions and the May 2010 proposed amendments are often located at industrial facilities and power plants, and are used to generate electricity in periods of utility power outages, or to power pumps and/or compressors.  However, information technology (IT) and/or other nonindustrial business sector companies utilizing emergency RICE and generators to power servers and other processes in times of utility power outages are also affected.  In fact, retail sites, municipal buildings, even the corner grocer, may own and operate an emergency RICE that could potentially require an air quality permit.

As mentioned, many well-informed facilities reacted immediately to these revised rules.  However, due to the three (3) year “buffer” between the effective and compliance dates, other facilities did not.  And, given the historic trend of emergency RICE operating “under the regulatory radar,” many facilities have either not addressed the possible impact or are completely unaware of the looming potential compliance issue.  This is especially true for nonindustrial facilities with no previous air quality exposure or experience who’s only potentially regulated air quality source is an emergency engine or generator used to provide reserve power.  However, there is still time for facilities to analyze applicability of the revised rules to their emergency RICE operations and implement processes and procedures to demonstrate compliance before the approaching compliance dates in 2013.  What’s more pressing for permitted facilities and even more so for facilities without existing permits and no previous permitting experience or knowledge, is the impact that this relatively recent Federal focus on RICE has had on the state level.  In some states, including Pennsylvania, changes are being made that require previously innocuous RICE to obtain agency approval to operate, either through permit exemption requests such as Request for Determinations (RFDs), General Permits (GPs), or construction permits such as Plan Approvals (PAs).

The Federal action targeting engine operations has stirred renewed interest in emergency RICE operations among state agencies.  State regulators, permitting engineers, and enforcement officers/inspectors are becoming more and more aware of these normally quiet units that previously garnered no special regulatory attention.  And they’re reacting.  A time is quickly approaching where a facility’s unpermitted emergency RICE will no longer be able to avoid agency scrutiny.  Inspectors and permitting engineers are asking questions about RICE that previously warranted no agency attention.  Also, facilities with an existing operating permit are being asked to include emergency engines previously thought to be insignificant sources (free from inclusion in an operating permit) to be added in via a construction permit application and/or administrative amendment.  Additionally, facilities with no previous permitting experience and no knowledge that air quality permitting may be required are being asked to evaluate their emergency RICE operations from an air quality permitting applicability standpoint.

Don’t be Blindsided

Admittedly, for most industrial facilities emergency RICE units are not a significant portion of their air quality permitting/compliance “pie.”  However, you could be operating in compliance with your facility’s air quality permit, have all of your regulatory “duck” in a row so to speak, and still potentially receive a Notice of Violation (NOV) and/or related enforcement action because that emergency RICE out back that you’ve only seen operate once in your tenure doesn’t have a permit but is now expected to have one.  So, what can you do to prepare your facility and avoid the potential negative compliance implications?

Steps you can take to avoid being blindsided by your emergency engine operations are as follows:

  • Know Yourself – Take another good hard look at your miscellaneous insignificant emergency RICE operations.  Gather up the key criteria for your RICE.  The model number, manufacture and install dates, size (in brake horsepower (bhp)), type of fuel burned, historic operation, record of historic maintenance performed, etc.  All of this information is important to know and can help you find the correct permitting path for your emergency RICE.
  • Know Your Manufacturer – If the above listed information is not available to you within your facility’s internal records (and given the age of some emergency RICE it may not be) reach out to the manufacturer for emissions information, model number, capacity, manufacture and installation dates, etc.  We suggest doing this sooner rather  than later as information for older RICE could be a significant effort to track down.
  • Know Your State Agency- “ As discussed, the focus of state agencies on emergency RICE operations is changing.  Reaching out to your local permitting engineer, inspector, or air quality consultant to gauge where your state agency stands regarding the permitting of emergency RICE at your facility is a good first step in working toward resolving any potential permitting action.
  • Be Transparent – Also as discussed, both facilities and agencies are guilty of being uninformed and unintentionally neglectful of the potential permitting requirements of emergency RICE operations at facilities.  In ALL4’s experience, facilities that take the first step toward properly permitting their emergency RICE and are transparent regarding the nature of their operation are met with favorable permitting reviews from state agencies.

While most emergency RICE units represent relatively small sources, the strategy behind the best way to approach their permitting can at times be complicated.  In an effort to provide clarity to our 4 The Record readers, ALL4 has planned to publish engine permitting guides for certain mid-Atlantic states throughout 2011 via 4 The Record and/or 4 The Record Extra! articles.  Look for the permitting guide for Pennsylvania to be published in the first quarter of 2011.

Odds and Ends

For those 4 The Record readers who may be looking to enroll their emergency RICE operations in an emergency demand response program with their local utility, U.S. EPA will conduct a public meeting to discuss the reconsideration of the RICE MACT as the final rule applies to operation of emergency RICE for up to 15 hours per year as part of an emergency demand response program.  The public meeting will be held February 14, 2011 at U.S. EPA’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) campus located at 109 T.W. Alexander Drive in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.  Likewise, the deadline for commenting has been extended from January 13 to February 14, 2011.


    Sign up to receive 4 THE RECORD articles here. You'll get timely articles on current environmental, health, and safety regulatory topics as well as updates on webinars and training events.
    First Name: *
    Last Name: *
    Location: *
    Email: *