Single Source Determinations For Air Quality Permitting Applicability
Posted: June 11th, 2013Author: All4 Staff
Once again, single source determinations and the confusing issue of whether to aggregate emissions from multiple sources together for permitting as a single source (facility) is in the limelight for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) due to ongoing and threatened litigation. As a reminder, aggregation is a construct of the U.S. EPA under New Source Review Permitting that defines what air emission sources are considered together as a “single facility” and this in part, determines if the permitting action is for a major air emission source. The litigation portrays PADEP, and EPA as a complying partner, to be making inconsistent decisions based on incorrect interpretations that are contrary to the federal Clean Air Act. The real answer is that situations involving multiple sources where aggregation could be considered are often very complicated and are case-by-case decisions that have to consider multiple determining factors. PADEP is specifically being characterized as circumventing proper permitting procedures in their oil and gas single source permitting policy statement. Lacking clear guidance from U.S. EPA and faced with an increasing number of permitting situations where aggregation was considered, PADEP tried to provide better definition and some “brighter” lines where some of these single source decisions could be established. The PADEP “¼ mile” distance standard clearly defined when exactly air emission sources would be aggregated together as a single source, while continuing to recognize the gray area that still remains beyond ¼ mile where case-by-case decisions still have to be made. These are not actions for which an air permitting program should be revoked, as requested in the recent threatened legal action.
Some of those opposed to unconventional gas exploration would like to paint a bright line where air emission units connected by pipelines would always be determined to be one single facility. Such a position greatly increases the likelihood of stopping a gas well project. If connectivity were the dominate criteria that makes a single facility (pipes, electrical wires, roads, telephones, etc.), the impact on all air quality permitting projects will expand well beyond unconventional gas wells. Although a bit cliché, the old saying “Be very careful what you ask for” applies in this case. Most of the modern world would not function in a dependable manner without connectivity. Not too long ago, many towns had their own electric generation and fuel-gas generation facilities, remnants of which still exist. If those systems failed, town residents and businesses could regress to the dark ages in a matter of minutes. Even our environment would not be as clean if it were not for connectivity. If every company had to construct their own electrical lines, telephone lines, or gas pipelines for fear of aggregated permitting, rather than combining these collection and delivery systems, the environment would suffer from that added construction. If water supply and sewage treatment systems have to aggregate all of their engine driven pumps and electrical generators together, they too may become major air emission sources. Stressing the intent of major source permitting under the Clean Air Act with broad interpretations of connections for delivering products such as natural gas, oil, gasoline, electricity and even drinking water will have many unintended consequences.