Do As I Do
The Clean Air Act was enacted well over 30 years ago, and each of the amendments to the Act has added a new layer of requirements. When the last amendments to the Act were approved in 1990, the new Title V operating permits program -- and subsequent policies issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- were widely feared by regulated parties. Particularly worrisome were the provisions requiring continuous compliance demonstration, compliance assurance monitoring enhanced monitoring, and identification and certification of compliance with all applicable requirements.
Perhaps the greatest impact of Title V was the shift of responsibility for ensuring compliance. Previous regulations placed the burden on the regulatory agency to detect noncompliance; Title V requires that responsible officials and/or facility managers certify compliance. And the possibility of criminal penalties in the case of knowing violations was downright ominous. Many experts advocated avoidance as the best philosophy, oftentimes by limiting the scope of facility operations to keep potential emissions below the Title V major source threshold.
Reality has been much less frightening for many sources that have obtained Title V permits: for some, Title V has lived up to its billing by providing an opportunity to consolidate and/or clarify air quality compliance requirements and to maintain long-term facility operational flexibility and the possibility of future growth. One such source is located in the desert, six miles southwest of Alamogordo, N. M. Holloman Air Force Base (AFB) is home to the 49th Fighter Wing, whose primary mission is to support the F-117 Stealth aircraft. The Holloman AFB Title V permit has been in place for a year and a half, and the base has certified compliance with the permit requirements three times (every six months). Recently audited by an external, contractor-supported U.S. Air Force program assessment team, the Holloman AFB air quality program received a model rating and was recommended as a standard to be used by other programs.
Previous regulations placed the burden on the regulatory agency to detect noncompliance; Title V requires that responsible officials and/or facility managers certify compliance.
Keys to the success of the Holloman AFB Title V program should be equally applicable to non-military facilities in a wide range of industries. When emulating this program, facilities are cautioned that site-specific planning and assessment is necessary, because state regulations and/or regulatory interpretations may differ in small details from the federal program. Also, facilities must pay careful attention to the interface between state and federal pre-construction permit programs and Title V.
Detail Initial Planning
The old adage - most people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan - might have been coined by a Title V regulated facility. State and federal regulations are specific and voluminous with regard to who must apply and what must be included in an acceptable Title V permit application. A comprehensive audit of all operations and emission sources is required to determine applicability of the regulations. This was no small task for Holloman AFB, which covers 94 square miles and with a full range of residential, commercial and industrial operations conducted by numerous host, contractor and tenant organizations.
A review of operational requirements to allow for growth and any sudden mission changes for the life of the five-year permit was prepared. Involvement of operating personnel in the planning process, and inclusion of a "safety margin" beyond the worst-case projections provided by the operating personnel, was essential to ensure the reasonableness of the operational projections. Holloman AFB employed base-wide emission limits - where regulatory provisions did not require limits on specific emission units - to allow a single smaller safety margin for each pollutant rather than individual limits for each category of source or even each emission unit.
Attention to Detail / Frequent Communication
Applicants should maintain frequent communication with regulatory agencies during the Title V permit application preparation process. Because Title V was a new program nationally, implementation policy and regulatory interpretations were being developed at the same time affected sources were preparing permit applications. Holloman AFB avoided being blindsided by communicating with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) on two fronts. First, Holloman AFB personnel submitted unofficial drafts for informal review by agency staff; this allowed agency staff to become familiar with operations at the base and to raise questions early during the application preparation process. Second, Holloman AFB formed an informal alliance with other regulated federal facilities in New Mexico and met on a regular basis with NMED senior staff to work out policy and interpretation issues, resulting in a streamlining of the permitting process and significant savings of both applicant and agency resources.
Applicants should maintain frequent communication with regulatory agencies during the Title V permit applications preparation process.
The amount of information required to demonstrate compliance with a Title V permit will overwhelm most environmental staffs if not for a two-pronged information management strategy. First, source operators must be incorporated as teammates who are aware of permit operational and reporting requirements; the source operators should keep the day-to-day records and, in many cases, can enter data directly into a comprehensive database developed to track compliance requirements.
The database is the second element of a successful information management strategy. Using the Holloman AFB database, environmental staff track operating parameters and emissions for 17 source categories covered by the permit. A good database allows the user to analyze emissions information in various ways and generates custom reports to satisfy ad hoc internal and regulatory specified reporting requirements. Holloman AFB environmental staff can evaluate compliance status on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, in addition to the required semiannual compliance demonstration. Because information is managed by source and source category, it is a simple matter to zero in on any source that may be exhibiting higher or lower emissions.
Facilities also must implement specific procedures to ensure reliability and consistencies of the information collected - and emphasize the importance of these factors to operating personnel in light of potential civil and criminal penalties. For example, Holloman AFB monthly data is to be submitted to environmental staff by the 10th calendar day of the following month; an automated database function generates a "non-reporting source" list on the 11th calendar day.
Because source operators play an integral role in Title V compliance, training is a very important aspect of the compliance strategy. Source operators and environmental coordinators for shops that contain permitted sources should be given a heavy dose of Title V training, including the reasons for reporting operations/emissions and the seriousness of inaccurate operations or recordkeeping. Operators that have direct access to the Title V information management database should receive additional training to ensure they are familiar with the information needs of the database and the correct data entry procedures. At Holloman AFB, environmental reporting has been added as an employee performance evaluation criterion for many source operators.
Source operators must be incorporated as teammates who are aware of permit operational and reporting requirements.
Personnel turnover necessitates close tracking by environmental staff to identify when new source operators and/or appointed environmental coordinators arrive and expedite appropriate training for the new staff.
Ongoing assessment keeps a Title V compliance program up-to-date and the compliance staff alert. Holloman AFB employs at least three levels of internal and external assessment.
At regular intervals, environmental staff and source operators meet at each source location to conduct a routine "Technical Assistance Evaluation." This internal evaluation is designed to keep source operators updated on applicable environmental requirements and to identify and correct potential problems before they lead to permit noncompliance.
On a quarterly basis, and prior to submission of routine reports, local contractors provide support and evaluative feedback of compliance. This routine review focuses first on identifying and eliminating potential problems - both in actual operations and in the information management system - and second on promoting a continuous improvement of the compliance process. One of the key lessons learned from this routine review is to compare current emission data with past reports and always ask why when there is a sudden change in emissions; more often than not, assumptions used in the information management system did not adequately anticipate some aspect of the actual facility operations.
Finally, an ongoing external assessment is provided through the U.S. Air Force Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Compliance Assessment Management Program (ESOHCAMP). The Air Force mandates that each facility undergo an external ESOHCAMP audit - i.e., one conducted by an independent external audit team - every three years. Teams review the compliance status of a facility using compliance protocols customized to the site. Holloman AFB underwent an external ESOHCAMP audit in November 2001. When the audit was completed, the Holloman AFB air quality program, including the Title V permit compliance program, received a model rating and was recommended as a standard to be used by other programs throughout the U.S. Air Force.
Title V compliance is not likely to occur by accident. In all industries, Title V impacted facilities must rely on a comprehensive compliance information management system capable of accurate, reliable and consistent record keeping and reporting for permit requirements. Additionally, a dynamic internal and external program assessment must be implemented to ensure continuously successful operations.
Elements of Successful Title V Compliance Programs
- Detailed initial planning;
- Frequent communication during the permitting process;
- Implementation of an emissions information management system;
- Ongoing training of all staff; and
- Ongoing objective assessment of the compliance program.
This article originally appeared in the March 2002 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 13, No. 3, p. 26.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2002 issue of Environmental Protection.