Emission Event Investigations: What the TCEQ thinks you need to know
Posted: July 1st, 2019Authors: Rachel H.
ALL4 attended the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Trade Fair May 14-15, 2019 to stay up to date on changes in permitting and compliance. Although there were only a few updates regarding the minor New Source Review (NSR) application workbook and electronic modeling evaluation workbook (EMEW), there were many interesting sessions with the TCEQ members over a variety of topics. One session involved a brave TCEQ investigator that spoke on the topic of Emissions Events (EE’s). She stepped up on behalf of TCEQ and discussed the gray areas of EE’s and opened herself up to questions from the industry members in the audience. Read on to hear what she thinks we need to know and some clarifications on the gray areas of EE reporting.
She began the session by giving a brief overview of some definitions around EE’s. She didn’t spend much time on the basics, but for a refresher, visit this TCEQ resource for guidance.
The result of many EE investigations is a Notice of Violation (NOV) or Notice of Enforcement (NOE). A NOE occurs if the EE is greater than 15% over the allowable limit of a pollutant. These can be contested through a process known as affirmative action. She stated that many affirmative action cases are denied for one of two reasons.
- Reporting Errors
- Cause Related Errors
She took a deeper dive into each of these to help the audience prevent affirmative action cases from being thrown out. Violations are never fun for the facility, but it’s not any better for the investigator who issues them. It’s best for everyone if we heed the warnings and put some effort into handling EE’s appropriately.
The number one thing you need to know about reporting errors in affirmative action is that within 24 hours of the knowledge of an EE, it must be reported to the TCEQ. The interpretation of this rule sparked a lot of discussion in our session. This start time is often misinterpreted to mean 24 hours from when the environmental manager is notified, or 24 hours from when a solution is found for the EE. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The 24-hour clock starts from the moment someone knows or should have known of the incident that could cause an EE. This means the clock has started before the reportable quantity (RQ) is even reached in some cases. The moment that the event is realized, projection calculations for the next 24 hours should be made to determine if it’s likely the RQ will be reached. Some tips were offered for this. It was mentioned that when in doubt, notify the TCEQ. It can always be zeroed out later if it was determined that the RQ was not reached. Keep in mind that the members of TCEQ understand that the anomalies of every industry cannot be written into the rules. Investigators exist to interpret the rules in a case-by case manner.
Cause Related Errors
The best advice around cause related errors in affirmative action is to be completely honest and open with the TCEQ investigators. Often, TCEQ receives reports with the answer “unknown cause.” This doesn’t provide proof of understanding. Without evidence, affirmative defense action isn’t adequately documented. If nothing else, explain your thought process around concluding that the cause was “unknown.” A little effort goes a long way in reporting.
Causes for EEs fall under three categories:
- Operator error
- Maintenance issues
- Engineering design flaw
The TCEQ investigator made it clear that the best practice around describing the event is to be completely transparent regarding the details. The options above are merely categories and require more explanation. This mindset of transparent reporting builds rapport with the TCEQ investigation team. She stressed that by omitting information, there is risk in losing the trust of the investigator. This can result in a longer investigation attributable to additional back and forth. Being honest and showing candor will go a long way in resolving open items quickly while building a reputation that could carry through for years.
For more information around this topic, feel free to visit TCEQ’s website which contains the slides from this presentation. If none of this is your cup of tea, then you can always give the folks at ALL4 a call. Feel free to connect with me about this topic or a wide range of other environmental topics at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-937-7553 x304.