North Carolina To Exempt Small Polluters From Air Quality Permits

North Carolina To Exempt Small Polluters From Air Quality Permits

By / State News / Wednesday, 20 January 2016 05:00

RALEIGH, N.C. : January 14th, 2016 - Businesses that account for less than 1 percent of statewide emissions from factories and other industry will no longer need air quality permits under a proposal passed by the Environmental Management Commission.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality developed the plan to exempt about 1,200 very small facilities from permitting requirements.
The plan claims it does not remove or relax any existing emissions standards and still requires businesses to comply with all air quality rules and regulations. The businesses that qualify for the exemption will remain subject to inspections by state regulators.
“This is a common sense approach that eliminates costly red tape while improving environmental protection,” said Sheila Holman, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality. “The plan relieves some small businesses from the costs and regulatory burden of having air permits and allows regulators to focus more attention on larger sources of air pollution. This change will actually improve air quality because it incentivizes small businesses to lower their emissions to meet the exemption status and diverts limited state resources to the regulation of impactful polluters.”
State regulators will continue to issue permits, inspect, and collect data on larger sources that account for more than 99 percent of air emissions from industrial facilities. The resources that are freed up by reducing paperwork can now be used for additional inspections of larger, more environmentally significant sources of emissions. All sources would have to keep and maintain any air pollution control equipment they already have in place and could be inspected at any time, whether they are exempt from permitting requirements or not.
North Carolinians are breathing cleaner air than at any time in the past 20 years due to fundamental changes in our energy sector, including converting coal-fired plans to natural gas to create cleaner and cheaper energy.  The rule is subject to review by the General Assembly and will likely take effect after the legislative session ends. More than 1,600 public comments were considered while the plan was being developed. The commission passed the proposal by a vote of 12 – 1.
According to Coastal Review Online at  http://www.coastalreview.org 1,600 people and groups opposed the move while five supported it. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  also objected to the exemptions.
According to the NC Division of Air Quality:
• Facilities would be exempt from permitting if they have actual emissions less than 5 tons/year for each specified pollutant and 10 tons/year for all pollutants.
• Facilities would be eligible for registration rather than permits if they are not exempt but have total emissions less than 25 tons/year for all pollutants.
• Permitted facilities could make minor changes to equipment without first modifying their air permits.
• Facilities would no longer need air permits for stationary reciprocating internal combustion engines, such as emergency generators, if they are the only source of air emissions at a facility.
The changes would save businesses an estimated $768,225 per year in permit fees and associated costs. DAQ would lose about $280,425 per year in revenue from permit fees currently paid by small facilities, but would no longer have the administrative costs associated with writing and renewing permits for most small sources.

Opposition To New Exemption Rules
“Instead of protecting the people of North Carolina, DEQ is proposing to increase the risks of cancer and serious illness to children, families, and anyone who breathes in North Carolina for the convenience of polluters,” said Myra Blake, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the state administration’s proposed changes to existing air quality standards would exempt about 1,200 facilities that emit toxic and pervasive air pollutants from having to comply with the state air quality permitting process. Another 240 facilities would become eligible to register with the Division of Air Quality, rather than having to obtain a permit for their pollution.
Under the state government’s proposal, facilities would be exempt from permitting if their annual pollution—including mercury, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, fine particles, and ozone precursors, to name a few–into the air is up to 10 tons total and up to 5 tons per pollutant. Facilities would also become eligible for registration rather than permits if they are not exempt but have total emissions less than 25 tons per year for such pollutants, including hazardous and toxic pollutants.
All of the facilities that would be exempted as a result of this proposal have the potential to emit pollution at levels above the exemption thresholds that DEQ has set out, if they do not operate their pollution controls properly. 
Once these polluters are exempt from permit requirements, they could reduce or cease operating their pollution controls and increase toxic pollution back above the threshold without public knowledge.
According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, one result of these exemptions is that the people of North Carolina would no longer have access to information about the air pollution in their communities that impacts their health and that of their families. More than 50 percent of these polluters are within one mile of a school or hospital.
Based on available DAQ data for 932 of these facilities in 2013, about 648 North Carolina schools that span kindergarten through high school are less than one mile from at least one of these air pollution sources.
About 54 of 139 medical hospitals are less than one mile from at least one of these air pollution sources.
Some of these hospitals are within a half mile of these to-be-exempted finishing plants, lumber mills, smelting plants, and poultry processing plants.

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