Before a new plant is built or an existing facility expands or modifies its plant, an air quality construction permit may be required. There are two types of construction permits: state and federal, known as Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits. The type of construction permit needed will depend on the air pollutants that could be released from the new plant or expansion project.
Purpose: First and foremost, air quality construction permits are needed to protect the ambient air quality. Ambient air is the air outside of buildings that the general public has access to. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) to protect the public health, welfare, and the environment.
Predictive computer modeling is conducted prior to issuing construction permits to valuate the potential impact the plant will have on the ambient air quality. A construction permit cannot be issued if the plant will cause or significantly contribute to violations of the ambient air quality standards.
Construction permits also impose federally enforceable requirements that are recognized by the EPA. Construction permits include emission and/or production limits that ensure air quality protection. The permits contain record keeping, reporting, monitoring, and testing requirements to ensure the plant is able to demonstrate that the permitted limits are met.
The public is given notice that a construction permit may be issued and is given an opportunity to comment on activities that affect their environment. The public notice also provides an opportunity for communities to be educated about the environmental impacts of plants locating in their area.
State Construction Permits
Many states have had air quality construction permits in place since 1972 or earlier. In recent years, state permit requirements have been modified to reflect changes in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Facilities are typically required to obtain a construction permit before they construct, reconstruct or modify any air contaminant source or emission unit where there is a net increase in the potential-to-emit above prescribed quantities. Potential-to-emit (PTE) means the maximum emissions that would result from operating the source at full capacity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year taking into consideration federally enforceable requirements.
Federal Construction Permits
EPA developed the federal construction permit program, known as the New Source Review program, in 1977. Many states have incorporated the federal program into the state regulations and thereby maintain the authority to implement and enforce these rules. This program assures the following: economic growth will occur in harmony with the preservation of existing clean air resources; public health and welfare will be protected from adverse affects which might occur even at pollution levels below the ambient standards; and the air quality in areas of special natural recreation, scenic, or historic value, such as national parks and wildlife areas, will be preserved, protected and enhanced.