Air Pollution

Air Pollution: Standards and Regulations

Environmental auditing is the process of reviewing a facility’s compliance with its environmental requirements. Environmental audits are used to evaluate compliance, but are often required to maintain environmental certifications.

Air Pollution: Standards and Regulations

Air pollution comes from a variety of sources and in many different forms.
Many industrial facilities must meet both emission standards and reporting and recordkeeping requirements. The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the primary legislation limiting certain air pollutants and is enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or U.S. EPA).
The SIP is the combination of regulations and enforcement mechanisms that the state will use to meet CAA limits.

Overview of the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act is the primary legislation used by EPA to limit air emissions and set limits on how much of any pollutant can be in the air in different areas of the United States.
The law was first enacted in 1970 and its scope significantly expanded by the 1990 CAA Amendments, which provided EPA with broad authority to draft and enforce regulations that would reduce air pollutant emissions. The CAA regulates mobile and stationary sources, sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants, sets permitting requirements for new, modified, and existing sources, and provides EPA and the public with enforcement power for violations.

It also limits stratospheric ozone to prevent acid rain and restricts dangerous refrigerants under the Montreal Protocol. States, local governments, and tribes work with the U.S. EPA to meet and enforce CAA requirements. Many permits are issued at the state level, and states are allowed to issue stricter emission limits than the federal government.

Enforcement of the CAA is a federal/state partnership, where the U.S. EPA sets limits on air pollution and on emissions from industrial sources. In turn, the states must submit a “State Implementation Plan” or “SIP” to the U.S. EPA specifying how the state will meet the emission limits and enforce the CAA. The SIP is the combination of regulations and enforcement mechanisms that the state will use to meet CAA limits. U.S. EPA must approve the state SIPs.
If it disapproves, then the federal government will enact it’s own plan to address pollution in that state.

Two key CAA provisions are the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs). NSPS regulations are promulgated at 40 CFR 60, while NESHAPs are found at 40 CFR 61 & 63.

Regulating Criteria Pollutants: Particulate Matter, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides, and Lead

The six “criteria” pollutants are Particulate Matter, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides, and Lead.

U.S. EPA sets NAAQS for the criteria pollutants that states must ensure are met within their borders. Certain areas of the state that meet the NAAQS are called attainment areas, while areas that do not meet the standard are nonattainment areas.
The NAAQS represent the general air quality standard that EPA has determined must be met to protect the health of people and the environment.
Once a NAAQS is finalized, states have 3 years to submit their SIP demonstrating how it will meet the air standard.

EPA must issue both primary standards and secondary standards. The primary standard must be sufficient to protect the public health, including sensitive populations such as children, the elderly, and those with respiratory issues. Secondary standards protect the public welfare, including damage to the environment, crops, buildings, and visibility.

New Source Performance Standards (NSPS)

New Source Performance Standards are the emission standards set for new air pollution sources.

The NSPS represent the degree of emission limits achievable through the use of the best system of emission reduction. The NSPS are categorical – if your facility operates in one of the source categories, then as a new source you must meet the technology-based air emission NSPS for that category.

Prior to operation, new sources are required to conduct a performance test to determine baseline emissions, and sources are often required to demonstrate continued compliance using continuous emission monitoring. NSPS is issued under Section 111 of the CAA, and the NSPS regulations are found at 40 CFR Part 60.

National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs)

NESHAPs are the air emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). HAPs are those air pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer, serious health effects, or reproductive issues. EPA sets the NESHAP by determining the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) for each regulated category or industry sector.

The MACT represents the emissions of the most efficient performers in the category and EPA sets the MACT as the floor – each regulated facility in the category must meet the emission standards that are achieved by the most efficient facilities.

NESHAPs are found in 40 CFR Part 61 and 40 CFR Part 63. Part 61 regulates 7 HAPs: asbestos, beryllium, mercury, vinyl chloride, benzene, arsenic, and radon/radionuclides. These HAPs are pre-1990 CAA Amendments. Following the CAA Amendments of 1990, EPA was granted greater authority to regulate HAPs and was required to ensure that source meet technology based emission standards equivalent to the best performers (i.e. meet the MACTs). This expanded to approximately 190 HAPs, which are regulated by source category.
These regulations are found at 40 CFR Part 63.

Importance of implementing an active regulatory watch on Air Pollution

It is important to monitor and track CAA regulations as they are constantly evolving.
The CAA requires EPA to review NAAQS periodically, and states must in turn submit SIPs indicating what they are doing to meet those NAAQS. CAA regulatory amendments may impact emission limits, reporting requirements, and permitting requirements.


Stratospheric Ozone Protection

More to come. 40 CFR Part 82 regulates refrigerants and ozone.

Greenhouse Gas Reporting

More to come. 40 CFR Part 98 requires certain industries to report greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn more about Environmental Laws and Standards

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