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EPA and Louisiana Tussle Over GHG Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet approved the country’s first greenhouse gas permits for industrial plants, nearly two months after they were issued – leaving environmental groups threatening an appeal.

Steel company Nucor corporation became the first in the country to secure permits for its carbon emissions on January 31 of this year, when the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) issued the permits for two iron plants in St. James Parish, 40 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, SolveClimateNews reports.

But the regional EPA office found major problems with the permits. And environmental groups are considering appeals. An organizer for the Sierra Club said the organization is looking at appealing before May 3, the last day that the EPA office can be petitioned over the permits. Jordan Macha, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club Delta Chapter, said that there are significant uncertainties in the approval process, and that this could mean that GHG regulations don’t get enforced.

The delay signals confusion over who has ultimate responsibility for the permits, states or the federal government, SolveClimate News says.

The greenhouse gas rules require big carbon emitters – power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities that annually emit 75,000 tons of carbon or more – to get Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Operating permits and to control emissions using the “best available control technology”, or BACT. The covered facilities account for nearly 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases from stationery sources.

The EPA says that states are best suited to issue GHG permits, and intends to delegate its GHG permitting authority to states if requested. But the agency also says that many states are not yet ready to issue the permits, leaving the federal government to manage permits in the meantime.

In the Nucor case, the EPA’s Region 6 office sent the LDEQ a letter on January 7, outlining its concerns with the permits. The LDEQ then issued the permits on January 31.

The EPA carried out a 45-day review, and on March 4 told LDEQ that proposed BACT measures were not “practically enforceable”, and modelling used to predict the plants’ emissions was not thorough.

The EPA also said that the facilities should potentially have been treated as one plant, and treating them separately may have prevented several necessary environmental analyses from being carried out.

Bryan Johnston, administrator of the LDEQ air permits division, said his agency would respond to the EPA’s concerns by the end of March. He said LDEQ is learning as it goes along, SolveClimate News reported.

“With other pollutants, LDEQ generally has a lot of data it can look to and see what emission rates are achievable and what types of devices work,” Johnston said. “Greenhouse gas add-on control technology is essentially non-existent.”

He added that emissions data is also hard to find. “The more that permitting authorities make determinations, the more data becomes available in the permitting process. I think we are now better prepared for the questions that the EPA may ask and we are better equipped to ask PSD applicants on GHG emissions,” Johnson said.

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