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Trump’s EPA Just Overhauled A ‘Complicated’ Part Of The Federal Permitting Process

Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency issued a guidance to clear up uncertainties in obtaining air quality permits required to build or modify facilities, like power plants and refineries.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the new guidance, or New Source Review (NSR), would make it easier to launch new projects or expand existing ones while maintaining air quality protections.

“Today’s NSR guidance advances President Trump’s goal to streamline permitting requirements for manufacturing facilitates as well as EPA’s efforts to reform the overly complicated and burdensome NSR program,” Pruitt said.

NSR is required for pre-construction permits under the Clean Air Act. EPA forces a project to install additional pollution control equipment, if said proposal is projected to significantly increase emissions. Changes to NSR allow permit seekers to calculate potential decreases in pollution in the same step as projecting potential increases.

Pruitt’s new guidance clears up what EPA calls “inconsistent application and interpretation” of the first part of the NSR permitting process. The guidance builds on two recent EPA memos outlining policy changes on major projects.

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EPA will not “second guess” power plant owners’ projections when assessing the emissions of projects, the agency announced in December. Shortly after, the agency issued a memo outlining a “once in always in” policy for industrial facilities.

EPA’s new guidance will make it easier to build critical infrastructure and even make existing facilities, like power plants, more efficient, industry groups said. Companies put off installing new technology for years over NSR, industries argue.

“There is no good reason for the permitting process to create unnecessary obstacles for a manufacturer who wants to make efficiency upgrades or install modern pollution control equipment,” National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) spokesman Ross Eisenburg said in a statement.

The oil and gas industry also hailed the new guidance. “These reforms will allow our industries to be modified and expanded, while continuing to provide strong environmental and health protection for the public,” the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers said in an emailed statement.

Environmental groups criticized Pruitt’s guidance. Pruitt’s guidance circumvents the rule making process to aid heavy industry, Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke said.

“The air will be dirtier thanks to industry taking advantage of this new kind of amnesty,” Walke told Bloomberg.

Pruitt’s guidance is similar to NSR interpretations former President Bush’s administration sought more than a decade ago. The Bush administration abandoned the policies just before former President Obama took office in 2009.

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