Environmental Protection Agency Finds Room for Improvement With Allegheny County’s Title V Operating Permit Program

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GASP has blogged about the backlog of Title V Operating Permits at the Allegheny County Health Department (“ACHD”) from time to time over the last few years. The Clean Air Act requires every major source of air pollution to have a Title V Operating Permit. A facility’s Title V Operating Permit must include all federal, state, and local air pollution law requirements to which the facility is subject. Because Title V facilities must report on their compliance with those requirements at least once a year, the permits help to improve compliance with the air pollution laws.

A Title V Operating Permit is good for five years. A facility may continue to operate on an expired permit as long as it has submitted a complete and timely application to renew the permit. Currently, out of twenty-eight major sources of air pollution in Allegheny County, nine are operating with expired permits, including one facility that has operated under an expired Title V Operating Permit since 2008. Two major sources of air pollution in Allegheny County, Allegheny Ludlum’s Brackenridge Works and Eastman Chemicals and Resins in West Elizabeth, have never been issued Title V Operating Permits. ACHD’s own regulations purportedly required that all facilities in Allegheny County subject to Title V’s operating permit requirement were to have been issued an initial permit by November 2004, at the latest.

ACHD’s Title V permitting program is subject to oversight by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). In August 2017, EPA conducted an evaluation of ACHD’s Title V permitting program. EPA detailed its findings in a report that was finalized in May 2018.

Although EPA did not make a determination that ACHD’s Title V permitting program was deficient (a legal conclusion which, if required corrective action were not taken, could ultimately lead to federal takeover of the program and the loss of federal highway funds), its report identified several problems with the program that have contributed to the backlog of Title V Operating Permits. Primarily, EPA found that ACHD could not adequately implement its Title V permitting program with existing staffing levels. EPA also noted problems with the permit tracking software that ACHD uses, ACHD’s failure to set formal due dates for permit applicants to respond to ACHD’s requests for additional information, and ACHD’s practice of prioritizing installation permits over operating permits. EPA’s report directed ACHD to take a number of specific steps to address these problems and improve the Title V permitting program:

  • ACHD must develop a corrective action plan for each backlogged Title V Operating Permit. The plan must specify the date by which the backlogged permit will be issued and identify intermediate deadlines for issuing any installation permits for a given facility that may need to be issued before its Title V Operating Permit;
  • ACHD must add additional permit engineers and other staff so that it can implement the corrective action plans it develops;
  • ACHD must improve the data entry and data management systems used by its Title V permitting program;
  • ACHD must determine whether its existing Title V fees are adequate to fund the operation of its Title V permitting program. If they are not, ACHD must work with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to increase the fees so that they are adequate to fund the program’s operations; and
  • ACHD should continue the steps it has already taken to improve the permitting program’s operations, by establishing deadlines for facilities to respond to its inquiries and tracking their compliance with such deadlines, developing permit templates, creating a database of specific sources within facilities, and working with EPA on permitting issues (especially those involving complex sources).

Hopefully, ACHD will implement these measures and eliminate the backlog of Title V Operating Permits. GASP will review and comment on draft Title V Operating Permits that ACHD publishes as it implements the corrective action plans.

–John Baillie, Staff Attorney

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