For 2018, Resolve to Know Your Permits

A suggested New Year’s resolution: know your permits.  While facility management teams generally know the numerical parameters that the facility must meet, some fail to keep other permit requirements in focus.

Facilities can violate their permit even without emitting or discharging anything illegal, by failing to comply with the numerous narrative requirements.

Also, for those renewing permits in 2018, do not focus only on the numerical limits.  Some narrative permit terms are both costly and more onerous than the regulations actually require.   When discussing a proposed draft with the agency, be ready to challenge requirements, even those in the current permit, if they go beyond what the agency can actually require.  Companies that do not blindly accept provisions proposed by agency staff have saved time and money in ongoing permit compliance.

Narrative Permit Requirements and Potential Violations

In addition to numerical limits on emissions, air and water permits have many paragraphs of narrative requirements.  Compliance with these narrative requirements is mandatory, but some facilities do not pay enough attention to them, because they are generally not subject to regular monitoring and reporting to the agency.

For example, many permits require agency notification, and perhaps even permit amendment, for changes that may increase or change emissions, even if the changes will not result in a violation of any numerical limit.  Environmental groups have indicated that these requirements are a good source of successful “citizen’s suits,” because they are often overlooked.  With these groups receiving record amounts of funding and membership, they will have the resources to investigate potential violations of this type.  Management should review the facility’s narrative permit requirements, and coordinate regarding changes in operation or equipment, to ensure strict compliance with narrative as well as numerical requirements.

Question Proposed Narrative Requirements

Some of these narrative requirements are more onerous than the regulations actually require.  Once in a permit, they become law, and compliance is required.  However, at the renewal stage, it is a good time to look at all the terms in a permit.  If certain provisions are both costly and more onerous than the rules require, it might be good to push back with the agency permit staff, and insist that provisions be no more onerous than the regulations require.  This can be true even as to provisions that are in the current permit.  Knowledgeable environmental lawyers or consultants may help in convincing permit writers that certain narrative provisions go beyond what the regulations require.  Companies have saved time and money in their compliance by not blindly accepting the narrative provisions in a draft permit.

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