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 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.

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. 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.

Fines for non-compliance with air quality regulations are some of the highest in the environmental sector. From 2013 data provided by the EPA, there are nearly 43,000 facilities in the United States with air quality permits. The EPA and/or state agency can only inspect a fraction of these facilities each year. Of the inspected facilities in 2013, nearly 2,000 formal enforcement actions were issued. The monetary penalties resulting from these enforcement actions totaled $51,500,000. This put the average penalty from enforcement action at just over $26,000 each.

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:Does the facility’s as-built and operational parameters, especially air emissions, match the data submitted in the air permit application(s)?

  1. Is all equipment with the potential for emissions included in the current air quality permit?
  2. Is the required recordkeeping maintained and up to date? This can include the previous 5 years of recordkeeping.
  3. Were all notifications, fees, and reports submitted to the EPA and/or State and in a timely manner?
  4. Is pollution control equipment operated as required? Are visible emissions in compliance?
  5. 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 can result in more lenient actions than if discovered by the EPA or State during their inspection.