Looking for experiences with EPA Title V permits
January 25, 2013 1:01 PM   Subscribe

We may need to get an EPA Title V operating permit, even though we have no intention of actually emitting any pollutants. Apparently we still need it because of the amount of solvent we use in our processes might exceed 100 tons per year. There is lots of information online about the details - so there's no need to rehash that here. What I'm really looking for is practical experience from folks that have gone through the process or are already operating with the permit.

How difficult is it to get? How onerous is the auditing? Are there any public relations implications for a company that get it (i.e. a perception that you are a gross polluter)? What else should I be concerned with?
posted by Long Way To Go to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Public relations implications can be huge, depending on the state. Some background, for example:

In California, based on experience in assisting in defending a foundry against a class action type suit, having a Title V permit puts you as a target for environmental working groups who may or may not launch suit against the company (this is the worst case scenario; however, likelihood would depend on the nature of the operations).

The permitting process is also pretty costly. You'll need to hire consultants for source testing, etc. The auditing can be frequent, depending on your relationship with the air regulatory agency near you.
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 1:12 PM on January 25, 2013

This is the sort of thing that businesses pay lawyers and/or consultants $500 an hour (or more!) to get done. As in, this is what the white-shoe firms in high-rise offices downtown do. We're talking DLA Piper, Sidley Austin, Baker Botts, etc. It's not what small firms do unless that's all they do.

If you can find a way of getting this done for less than $25,000, I'll be gobsmacked.

Thing is, if you're involved in a business that involves in excess of 100 tons of solvents on an annual basis, you can afford that. Or at least you should be able to, if you're pricing your product correctly.
posted by valkyryn at 1:45 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should call the EPA sooner than later and tall to a permitter. They know far, far, far more about the process than anyone else and can answer most of your questions for free. Do your due diligence and have the relevant info at hand and call them. ASAP.
posted by fshgrl at 3:29 PM on January 25, 2013

Best answer: So I'm an environmental consultant, specializing in outdoor air quality, and I've helped prepare Title V operating permit applications. It's a pretty involved regulatory program, with lots of things even I don't understand perfectly.

TL;DR: If you're big enough to worry about Title V, you're subject to other requirements as well, and you'll want to speak with a state-level regulator to help you figure out what you need to do.

First off, you may not actually be subject to Title V, based on your super-brief description, but if you're doing something that uses 100 tons per year of solvent, there may be other environmental requirements for you. Your profile says you're in California, so you might want to check out the California Air Resource Board website (homepage, permitting page, Title V page), and maybe call the business assistance number if you're just getting started with this activity. Solvent use may be subject to other requirements (especially in CA) regarding chemical composition, proper disposal, and tracking the amounts used. And even though you don't intend to emit any pollutants, solvents almost always give off chemical vapors unless captured with some kind of forced-air hood/filter/scrubber system, which you may be required to use.

To briefly answer your questions, it can take a year or more to get a Title V permit, although you don't have to submit your application until a year after you start operation. But if you need a Title V permit, you'll have to get other permits before starting your operation, with a similar amount of lead time. You'll almost certainly want an expert to prepare those applications for you, and it will probably cost tens of thousands of dollars-- how many tens will vary based on what your process is. You'll be subject to some kind of routine recordkeeping and reporting-- how difficult depends on the specifics of your process-- and you may also have restrictions on the kinds of solvent you can use, and/or be required to operate equipment to capture and/or destroy any vapors given off. As for PR implications, it's not a black mark at all. It simply means you're a big enough *potential* emitter to be subject to a higher standard of regulation. A new Title V facility is going to be meeting state-of-the-art pollution requirements, and can actually be *cleaner* than a mom-and-pop operation per unit of product.

That said, the trigger for Title V is not tons of potential material use, but tons of potential air pollution emitted. The main regulated air pollutants are: carbon monoxide (CO); nitrogen dioxide (NO2); particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10); particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5); sulfur dioxide (SO2); volatile organic compounds (VOC); hazardous air pollutants (HAP); and greenhouse gases (GHG).

For a process that just uses solvents you're chiefly going to be concerned about VOC and HAP. But in general, you may need if a Title V permit if your process is a "major source," that is, if it could potentially exceed any one of the following thresholds, in tons per year:

250 tpy, for CO, NO2, PM10, PM2.5, SO2, or VOC
10 tpy, for any single HAP compound
25 tpy for all HAP compounds combined
100,000 tpy, for GHG (measured as tons of CO2 equivalent)

That 250 tpy threshold drops to 100 tpy if your process is in one of 28 source categories listed at 40 CFR 52.21(b), but those are pretty much all heavy industrial processes such as metal smelters or chemical plants, and you shouldn't be affected by that.

HOWEVER, one potential snag for you, being in California, is that the Title V threshold for VOC emissions can drop to 50, 25 or even 10 tpy in parts of the country that are failing to meet EPA's air quality standard for ozone. That describes most of California (PDF), and different parts of the state have differing levels of ozone severity. Solvent emissions can be mostly VOC, and using 100 tons of solvent with nothing to capture fumes could in a worst case mean close to 100 tons of air emissions. In response to various state requirements to control VOC emissions, manufacturers of things like silkscreen or printer's ink, cleaning solvents, etc., have formulated versions of their products that have little or no VOC. They may not dry as quickly, or clean as well, as the nastier versions, but they're much lower in emissions.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 4:59 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

One last thing I'll add is that a fume hood that vents solvent vapors to the outside air is already an emission source. Every bit of vapor it collects is going into the air unless you have one of two things installed somewhere in the duct: an oxidizer that burns the vapor, or a charcoal filter that absorbs it. Regular dust filters won't capture volatile stuff.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 5:32 PM on January 25, 2013

Response by poster: Wow Dixon Ticonderoga! thanks for such a comprehensive answer. In our case the solvent is isopropyl alcohol which we understand to be just a VOC, not HAP. Use would be in OH rather than CA. We plan to capture 100% of the vapor (it's used by a single industrial process performed in an enclosed chamber) and 'burn' >99% using catalytic oxidation before release, resulting CO2 is much less than 100,000tpy.

We though that we become a major source for VOC at 100tpy which would be difficult, 250tpy is probably doable. Isn't just having >100tpy used in your process 'potential emissions' ?

We're at best 18 months away from actually emitting anything, but we just realized that a successful ramp up would take us into Title V territory. We'll be spending the time and $$ needed to make sure we're legal when we get there.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:49 PM on January 25, 2013

Best answer: I beg your pardon-- it looks as though I was mistaken about the 250 tpy threshold. What I discussed above are how major source thresholds work for two separate regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act: Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Nonattainment New Source Review (NNSR). If a facility triggers the major source threshold for either PSD or NNSR, it's automatically subject to Title V as well. But I was unaware that Title V indeed has its own threshold independent of these other two programs: 100 tpy is the number you care about.

Still, I believe you may be able to avoid Title V. As mentioned above, "potential emissions" means what it's possible to emit into the air, not just the amount you use. You are allowed to include the use of pollution controls when determining potential to emit. The Ohio Title V page links to a guidance memo (below "What is a Major Air Pollution Source under Title V") that reads in part:
Under Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Title V Permit Rules, "potential to emit" means the maximum capacity of a stationary source to emit any air pollutant under its physical and operational design. Any physical or operational limitation on the capacity of a source to emit an air pollutant, including air pollution control equipment and restriction on hours of operation or on the type or amount of material combusted, stored, or processed, shall be treated as a part of its design if the limitation is enforceable by the Administrator of the U.S. EPA.
Supposing your potential solvent usage might fall between 100 tpy and 250 tpy, your potential emissions to the air should be much lower. With 100% capture and >99% destruction, you're looking at potential VOC emissions on the order of 2.5 tpy or less, well below the Title V threshold. The "enforceable" part of the quote means that your state-level pre-construction permit (looks like Ohio calls it "permit to install" or "permit to operate") would include the requirement to install and operate those controls. But that's not a huge deal if you intended to use them already. You'd likely be required to keep records of the temperature in your oxidation chamber to make sure it stays above 1500 F or whatever it's designed for; possibly required to occasionally measure the actual VOC coming out of your oxidizer exhaust; and almost certainly required to keep records of your solvent usage. And if you're in a part of Ohio that's nonattainment for ozone (admittedly better than CA), a facility without those pollution controls and other requirements could very well trigger the NNSR threshold, and have to do all of those things anyway, but with a more costly permitting process. Facilities that would otherwise be "major" but that accept voluntary restrictions to avoid triggering these thresholds are often referred to as "synthetic minor" sources, and it's a pretty common thing to do. In my opinion it gets you kudos for volunteering to control your emissions, and the controls you plan to install are really pretty good. The local consultant you've hired or are about to hire should know all of these things. :)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 11:26 AM on January 26, 2013

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