Staying in Compliance with Air Quality Regulations

Does your facility have an air quality permit? If so, when was the last time it was updated? If your facility is not a major source of emissions, you may have an air permit with no expiration date. This can lead to situations where the air permit is 10 years, 15 years, or even older. Have facility operations not changed at all during that time? Has new equipment been installed? Are you sure that new boiler/oven/paint booth/etc. that was installed was truly exempt from an air quality permit? When was the last time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or your State’s environmental agency inspected your facility? If you are a major source of emissions, you probably see your inspector annually, but if you are not a major emitter, the inspections can be much more random and infrequent.

There are few manufacturing facilities that are exempt from operating without an air quality permit. Even an exempted facility could trigger air permitting requirements as a result of a modification. Before any modification that affects air emissions is started, a revised air quality permit application is required to be submitted to State or federal agencies. The term “modification” means any change in or alteration of fuels, processes, operations, or equipment which affects the amount or character of any air pollutant emitted, or which results in the emission of any air pollutant not previously emitted. Even if the modification meets your environmental agencies permit exemption thresholds, most of these agencies still request a No Permit Required determination to be made.

Fines for non-compliance with air quality regulations are some of the highest in the environmental sector. The EPA can assess civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation with total penalties up to $295,000. Fines can increase further with approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ). Furthermore, the EPA can assess criminal penalties against individual employees for criminal violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA). In 2018, there were 10 CAA Civil Cases. The settlements ranged from $300,000 to $25,000,000. For minor source permits, the EPA is typically not involved with violations, instead the State agency issues the orders and monetary penalties. In 2018, both the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GAEPD) and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) issued 42 Air Quality Administrative Orders, each. The GAEPD and ADEM typically issue fines ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 for failures to submit permit applications for modifications, but these fines can increase substantially for repeated violations and/or exceeding major source thresholds. The quantity of citations and range of fines can vary widely from state to state. For example, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued 1,650 enforcement actions in 2017 with total penalties exceeding $17,000,000.

The majority of the enforcement actions with monetary penalties are the result of deviations from required reporting, failed emission compliance tests, or items discovered during inspections (e.g. unpermitted equipment, missing records, violations of visible emission standards). Deviations from reporting or compliance tests are often known by the facility who in turn, notifies the EPA and/or State of the deviation; therefore, responding to the violation can often be an easier task than preparing for an inspection. Inspections are typically unannounced. An inspection by an EPA or State air quality inspector will check the following during an evaluation:

  1. Does the facility’s as-built and operational parameters, especially air emissions, match the data submitted in the air permit application(s)?
  2. Is all equipment with the potential for emissions included in the current air quality permit?
  3. Is the required recordkeeping maintained and up to date? This can include the previous 5 years of recordkeeping.
  4. Were all notifications, fees, and reports submitted to the EPA and/or State and in a timely manner?
  5. Is pollution control equipment operated as required? Are visible emissions (where applicable) in compliance?
  6. Is the facility following applicable work practice standards?

Can you say for certain that you can show compliance with those items when the EPA or State is at your facility? To stay in compliance with air quality regulations, an inspection to address the above should be conducted periodically by a qualified person familiar with the facility’s operation, air quality permit, and the applicable air quality regulations. This can save the facility from costly enforcement actions. Even if compliance issues are discovered that must be reported to the EPA and/or State, self-reporting compliance deviations will result in more lenient actions than if discovered by the EPA or State during their inspection.

For more information on air permit requirements, or if you would like to discuss how CTI can help your facility maintain compliance with air permitting, please contact us at

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