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Watchdog Report: GASP Weighs in on RACT II Determinations

Over the past several months, GASP has submitted comments on several “RACT II Determinations” made by the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. 

For those who are unfamiliar: “RACT” in this case stands for “Reasonably Available Control Technology,” and the Roman numeral “II” designates this as the second round of RACT determinations that have been required by the Clean Air Act. By way of background, the first round of RACT determinations was made in the mid- to late-1990s and early 2000s, following the 1990 addition of the RACT requirement to the Clean Air Act in 1990.

The Clean Air Act’s RACT requirement instructs the states to determine whether major sources of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in areas that do not attain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone are using all “reasonably available control technology” to limit their emissions of NOx and VOCs. 

NOx and VOCs are the two principal precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution.  If such sources are not implementing RACT, the states must require them to do so, even if they were properly permitted when they began operating and have continued to operate within all applicable limits.

States were required to make RACT II determinations as a result of the revision to the NAAQS for ozone that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made in 2008, and its subsequent designation of areas that did not attain that revised NAAQS. 

What does a RACT determination do? Generally, it requires that the facility identify all “technically feasible” controls for its NOx or VOC emissions, and then determine whether such controls are “reasonably available” using a cost-benefit analysis, looking specifically at the cost per ton of NOx or VOC emissions that each control would remove. 

For RACT II, sources in Pennsylvania have generally been required to implement NOx-limiting controls with a cost-effectiveness of $2,800/ton, and VOC-limiting controls with a cost-effectiveness of $5,500/ton. 

Since the beginning of 2020, GASP’s staff attorneys have reviewed many RACT II determinations, commenting on five of them. What we found when we commented on those determinations was interesting.

Most notably, the permitting authorities in our area seem to have taken inconsistent approaches to the use of recorded operating data from facilities to establish new RACT limits. To illustrate, ACHD used recorded monitoring data from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works and Clairton Coke Works to reduce emissions limits for NOx significantly, but did not require any new control devices or operating practices at those facilities. 

In contrast, DEP did not consider monitoring data when it determined RACT II for the Monessen coke plant operated by ArcelorMittal. Similarly, ACHD has not required lower emission limits for VOCs based on stack test results from PPG’s facility in Springdale. For the Bellefield Boiler, it appears ACHD identified several “technically feasible” control options, but may not have determined if they were “reasonably available.”

Although RACT II is winding up, more RACT determinations are on the way.  EPA’s 2015 revision of the NAAQS for NOx will require ACHD and DEP to begin making “RACT III” determinations within the next few years.

Editor’s Note: You can read all of GASP’s public comments here.

 

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