EPA Proposes Industry-Backed Changes To New Source Review

On Sept. 8, the Bush administration proposed changes to a clean air program that officials said should encourage investments in refining capacity, improve industries' efficiency and reduce demand for natural gas -- as well as lower energy costs to households and consumers. However, environmental groups said that the proposed revisions are part of the overall effort by the Bush administration to weaken the New Source Review (NSR) program.

The latest proposal includes the final set of proposals from EPA's 2002 recommendations to the president on how to clarify the NSR program. According to the agency, existing permit limits on emissions would not be affected, and the proposed changes will simplify the process facility owners and operators must follow in determining whether plans to modify their facility would trigger NSR requirements.

The proposal targets three specific areas of the agency's NSR permitting program:

  1. Debottlenecking: EPA is proposing to change how NSR applies when an owner or operator modifies one portion of a facility in such a manner that production or throughput in other unchanged portions of the facility increases, thereby increasing overall efficiency of the facility. This type of modification is known as a "debottlenecking" project. Under the proposal, unchanged portions of the facility would not be subject to NSR if emissions from those portions have already been taken into account in a prior permit or regulatory action, officials said.
  2. Aggregation: EPA is proposing to clarify how NSR applies when multiple projects are implemented at a facility. EPA is proposing that projects that are related should be treated as a single project (e.g. aggregated) if one of them is dependent on another. The rule provides additional information about how EPA makes this determination.
  3. Project Netting: EPA is proposing to simplify the step in the calculation used to determine whether NSR applies when emissions increases and decreases are added together (called "netting").

Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, said that the proposal "will provide additional certainty to oil refiners, petrochemical manufacturers and many other key industries as they modify facilities to meet increased demand for their products in a growing American economy."

However, Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, stated that the proposal would establish new loopholes enabling the oil industry to avoid installing modern pollution controls.

Additional information on the proposal can be found at http://epa.gov/nsr.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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