Backlogged Permit Problem Remains in Southwestern PA

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In September 2016 we blogged about the backlogs of applications for new and renewed operating permits for major sources of air pollution that existed in Allegheny County (where such sources are regulated by the Allegheny County Health Department (“ACHD”)) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) Southwest Region.

Because such operating permits are required by Title V of the Clean Air Act, they are commonly called “Title V Operating Permits.” A facility’s Title V Operating Permit must include all of the federal, state, and local air pollution law requirements that apply to the facility. Title V Operating Permits are intended to improve compliance with those requirements by eliminating confusion over which requirements actually apply and by mandating that facilities report on their compliance with applicable requirements at least once a year. A Title V Operating Permit is valid for five years, and a Title V facility must apply to renew its permit between six and eighteen months before the permit expires. The Clean Air Act requires state permitting agencies to act on applications for Title V Operating Permits within eighteen months.

There are twenty-seven major sources of air pollution in Allegheny County. When we checked in September 2016, two of those sources had never been issued Title V Operating Permits, and another nine of those sources had expired operating permits. The operating permits of five of those nine major sources had been expired for more than five years.

For purposes of air quality permitting, DEP’s Southwest Region includes sources in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties. In September 2016 in the Southwest Region, we counted sixty-eight major sources of air pollution, twenty-two of which were operating on expired permits. The operating permits of ten of those twenty-two major sources had been expired for at least five years.

We decided to check back to see the extent to which ACHD and DEP have resolved the backlogs that existed in 2016. Here’s what we found.

The two sources major sources in Allegheny County that had never been issued operating permits in 2016–Allegheny Ludlum’s Brackenridge Works and Eastman Chemical–still have not been issued permits. However, since September 2016, ACHD has published two draft operating permits for Allegheny Ludlum’s Brackenridge Works. Eastman Chemical remains under a 2011 federal court order that has worked to prevent ACHD from issuing an operating permit. ACHD has failed to act on renewal applications for eight major sources within eighteen months as its regulations require:

FACILITYLOCATIONRenewal Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Buckeye Pipe LineMoon Township8/8/20072/10/2008
Coraopolis TerminalCoraopolis8/9/20072/10/2008
PPG IndustriesSpringdale9/25/20145/19/2015
NRG PowerBrunot Island (Pittsburgh)6/24/20152/15/2016
Sunoco Pittsburgh TerminalPittsburgh12/30/20156/30/2016
USA Waste Monroeville LandfillMonroeville3/29/201610/5/2016
Kelly Run Sanitation LandfillElizabeth Township3/22/201610/5/2016
Allied Waste Imperial LandfillFindlay Township1/13/201610/13/2016

Although ACHD has slightly reduced the number of major sources in Allegheny County that are operating on expired permits, it has reduced the length of time such sources operate on expired permits. In 2016 five facilities’ permits had been expired for more than five years. Now that number is down to two, and ACHD recently published a draft renewal permit for Coraopolis Terminal, one of those two facilities, as well as PPG Industries’ Springdale complex, another facility on the backlog. In 2016, the average number of months each backlogged facility’s permit application was pending at ACHD for over sixty-three months; in 2018, backlogged applications were pending for an average of almost fifty-four months.

We counted seventy-one active, major sources of air pollution in DEP’s Southwest Region. One of these sites–Lehigh Specialty Metals in Latrobe–has never had a Title V Operating Permit, although DEP did issue a minor source operating permit to the facility in 2007. Including Lehigh Specialty Metals, DEP has failed to act on renewal applications for operating permits for fourteen of the seventy-one major sources in the Southwest Region within eighteen months as its regulations require:

FACILITYLOCATIONRenewal Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Dominion Transmission Oakford Compressor StationSalem Twp., Westmoreland 8/29/2003; 6/2/20143/1/2004
Consolidated Coal Bailey Prep PlantRichhill Twp., Greene5/25/2006; 1/29/201411/28/2006
Flexsys Monongahela PlantCarroll Twp., Washington7/3/2006; 9/25/20121/3/2007
Ebensburg Power Co.Cambria Twp., Cambria8/17/20062/19/2007
Allegheny Valley Connector LLC Laurel Ridge StationJackson Twp., Cambria5/11/2007; 1/2/20141/14/2008
U.S. Gypsum/NGC IndustriesAliquippa, Beaver7/27/20091/27/2010
Allegheny Energy Gans Power StationSpringhill Twp., Fayette7/20/20091/27/2010
Lehigh Specialty Melting Inc.Latrobe, Westmoreland7/15/20095/23/2012
Texas Eastern Armagh Compressor StationWest Wheatfield Twp., Indiana6/28/20127/31/2012
Dominion Transmission South Oakford Compressor StationHempfield Twp., Westmoreland1/11/201210/31/2012
Texas Eastern Delmont Compressor StationSalem Twp., Westmoreland9/17/20124/29/2013
Armstrong PowerSouth Bend Twp., Armstrong3/19/20149/9/2014
Greenridge Reclamation LandfillEast Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland4/30/201410/30/2014
Equitrans Pratt Compressor StationFranklin Twp., Greene4/19/201610/20/2016

The average time each backlogged facility’s permit application in DEP’s Southwest Region has been pending is now over ninety-seven months.

To test a hypothesis that the backlogs at ACHD and DEP’s Southwest Region exist because Title V permitting programs in Pennsylvania are not adequately funded, we decided to expand our research to other areas of Pennsylvania. The Clean Air Act requires that Title V permitting programs be self-funding, meaning, that the fees charged to Title V facilities must be sufficient to cover the costs of administering Title V programs. Title V fees for facilities in Pennsylvania are uniform state-wide. Accordingly, it stands to reason that if the permit backlogs at ACHD and the Southwest Region exist due to Title V permit fees being set too low to adequately fund their programs, similar backlogs would exist in DEP’s other regions. We decided to see whether this is the case.

DEP’s air quality permits are issued by regional offices that serve the regions on this map:

We used DEP’s eFACTS database to determine how many major sources of air pollution are located in DEP’s Northwest, Northcentral, Northeast, Southcentral, and Southeast regions, and also how many sources in each of these regions are operating despite DEP’s failure to act on applications for new or renewal permits in the eighteen months required by the Clean Air Act. It is worth noting that the Clean Air Act does not prohibit a source that submits its renewal application to DEP in a timely manner from operating where DEP delays acting on the application for more than eighteen months.

DEP’s Northwest Region (“NWRO”) includes Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, and Venango Counties. We counted sixty-one active major sources of air pollution in the Northwest Region. Three of those sixty-one facilities have had renewal applications for their Title V Operating Permits pending for more than eighteen months:

FACILITYLOCATIONPermit Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Domtar Johnsonburg MillJohnsonburg, Elk9/8/20154/10/2016
BASF Corp.Erie, Erie8/8/20168/1/2017
NRG Power Midwest/New Castle Power PlantTaylor Twp., Lawrence8/24/20165/9/2017

The average number of months each backlogged facility’s application for a renewal permit has been pending in the Northwest Region is about twenty-three months.

DEP’s Northcentral Region (“NCRO”) includes Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, and Union Counties. We counted sixty-five active major sources of air pollution in the Northcentral Region.

FACILITYLOCATIONPermit Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Springs Window FashionsClinton Twp., LycomingNo application submitted12/29/2015
U.S. Gypsum Washingtonville PlantDerry Twp., Montour8/9/2013New Facility

Based on reports of facility emissions on eFACTS, it appears that Springs Window Fashions may have ceased operations sometime in 2015 or 2016. However, if the facility is still operating, it is breaking the law: the Clean Air Act requires a major source to submit an application to renew its Title V Operating Permit at least six, and as many as eighteen, months before its current Title V Operating Permit expires, and it is illegal to operate a source of air pollution in Pennsylvania unless a complete application for an operating permit has been submitted.

Assuming that Springs Window Fashions has in fact shut down, the lone backlogged application for a Title V Operating Permit in the Northcentral Region has been pending for about fifty-six months.

DEP’s Northeast Region (“NERO”) includes Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties. We counted sixty-nine active major sources of air pollution in those counties, ten of which have had applications for their Title V Operating Permits pending for at least eighteen months:

FACILITYLOCATIONPermit Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Panther Creek Cogeneration PlantNesquehoning Borough, Carbon5/22/200811/26/2008
Vorteq Coil FinishersAllentown, Lehigh3/17/201610/17/2016
Hazelton GenerationHazle Twp., Luzerne5/13/2016New Facility
Northampton Generating Co.Northampton Borough, Northampton4/12/201110/31/2011
Hercules Cement Stockertown PlantStockertown Borough, Northampton12/15/20116/29/2012
Keystone Cement Co.East Allen Twp., Northampton3/7/20068/3/2006
Gilberton Power Co.'s John B. Rich Memorial Power StationFrackville Borough, Schuylkill7/13/20092/14/2010
Northeastern Power Co.'s McAdoo Cogen FacilityMcAdoo Borough, Schuylkill8/31/20098/31/2010
Schuylkill Energy Resources Inc.'s St. Nicholas Cogen FacilityMahanoy Twp., Schuylkill5/9/20114/23/2012
Ingenco Wholesale PowerPine Grove Twp., Schuylkill4/2/2016; 7/6/2015 (withdrawn)11/19/2015

The average number of months each backlogged facility’s application for a renewal permit has been pending in the Northeast Region is about seventy-eight months.

DEP’s Southcentral Region (“SCRO”) includes Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntington, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry, and York Counties. We counted 135 active major source of air pollution in these counties, only one of which has had a renewal application for a Title V Operating Permit pending for more than eighteen months:

FACILITYLOCATIONPermit Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Granger Energy of Honey BrookCaernarvon Twp., Lancaster8/8/20163/19/2017

The lone backlogged facility’s application for a renewal permit in the Southcentral Region has been pending for about twenty months.

DEP’s Southeast Region (“SERO”) includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties for purposes of permitting sources of air pollution (Philadelphia’s Air Management Services administers the Title V permitting program for facilities located in Philadelphia). We counted ninety-four active major sources of air pollution in the Southeast Region, two of which have had renewal applications for Title V Operating Permits pending for more than eighteen months:

FACILITYLOCATIONPermit Application SubmittedLast Permit Expired
Tube Methods, Inc.Bridgeport, Montgomery7/11/20163/2/2017
Superior Tube Co., Collegeville FacilityLower Providence Twp., Montgomery1/26/20168/3/2016

The average number of months each backlogged facility’s application for a renewal permit has been pending in the Southeast Region is about twenty-four months.

This chart summarizes the performance of all the regions discussed above, as well as the performance of ACHD and DEP’s Southwest Region as discussed in our earlier blog:

AgencyNumber of Major SourcesNumber of Major Sources with Backlogged Title V Operating PermitPercentage of Major Sources with Backlogged Title V Operating PermitAverage Number of Months Backlogged Permits Have Been Pending
ACHD27830%54
SWRO711420%97
NWRO6135%23
NCRO651<2%56
SCRO1351<1%20
NERO69913%84
SERO9422%24

Returning to our hypothesis, it appears that Pennsylvania’s Title V fees are sufficient to fund permitting programs that are generally able to process permit applications in the time required by the Clean Air Act, at least in some DEP regions. The Title V permitting programs at ACHD and DEP’s Southwest Region (and also to some extent, DEP’s Northeast Region) must find a way to better marshal their resources to process Title V permit applications in a timely manner.

–John Baillie, Staff Attorney

1 Comment Thus Far

  1. Good sleuthing! I am happy to see that your efforts for cleaner air are getting more sophisticated and more information-based. With this comparative information, we can fight harder and more effectively for cleaner air that is our right!

    - Ruth Fauman-Fichman | 05:01pm 6 Apr 18

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