Innovations in Permitting

or Is the Use of “Common Sense” Permitting an Innovation?

David Gossman
Gossman Consulting, Inc.
David Constans
 Gossman Consulting, Inc.

This paper was presented at The 2003 Environmental Innovations Summit  July 14-16, 2003 



“Isn’t innovation in permitting an oxymoron?”  This was a recent response by a process engineer when he heard the phrase “Innovations in Permitting”.  Indeed, a Google internet search using “environmental”, “innovation” and “permitting” reveals numerous articles and studies on how to provide for innovation in the development of control technologies despite the presence of restrictive permitting.  It reveals very little on the concept of actual innovations in permitting.  When a number of innovations in permitting, that this same engineer had developed, were pointed out he insisted they were not innovative, just common sense.  Thus, the subtitle and theme for this presentation, “Is the Use of “Common Sense” Permitting an Innovation?”

The most highly touted “innovation in permitting” by EPA and some states, Project XL, allows multiple permits to be consolidated into a single permit, in part, to avoid duplicate and contradictory conditions. This certainly seems to be a good example of “common sense” permitting in action.  Much of today’s Title V permitting work follows in that vein.  The following looks further at how “common sense” permitting can be put into action.


Whether applying for a new permit or attempting to modify or consolidate old permits, for example in the form of a Title V, it is important to "prepare the scene”.  In other words, make certain that the facility, the public and the regulatory authorities will see the permitting effort in the best possible light.  For example, an active community advisory panel program can be a critical and very effective channel of communications with community leaders and the public at large.  With such a program of communications in place, community concerns and objections to permitting efforts are reduced or eliminated.  Quite often the community can become an ally in such efforts.

Another important area for preparing the scene is the current level of compliance and reporting.  Authorities are much more likely to “go easy” during permitting on facilities who have a good track record, from their perspective. A thorough audit of existing operations, through legal counsel, may be warranted prior to starting a new permitting effort.  For Greenfield developments, don’t forget that a company’s compliance efforts elsewhere count.

Selecting the proper SIC code for your business can often reduce the regulatory requirements that must be met.  Local and state regulations are often keyed to the SIC code.  Certainly the regulations for a warehousing or distribution company will be less onerous for a company that primarily distributes and also does a small amount of processing.

Thinking bigger up front may greatly reduce future problems in getting permission for that production increase later.  The permitting effort is often the same for what you need now and for twice that capacity, with a permit specifically designed to implement the increase at a later date without further public review or hearing. 

Another area that is worth mentioning to support preparing the scene is the legitimate reduction of a facility’s emission and release profile.  There are numerous examples of this but perhaps the most public of those involves SARA 313 reporting.  It is important that actual data rather than worst-case assumptions be used whenever possible for SARA 313 reporting.  A particular trouble spot is dioxin reporting under SARA 313.  Plants that have done dioxin stack tests frequently use the “total tetra→octa dioxin emission rate” for the SARA 313 report.  This value is higher than what is actually required for SARA 313.  Generally one is required to go back to the raw lab data from the stack test to calculate the SARA 313 annual emission rate.


The next level of “common sense” innovation in permitting that needs to be discussed is involvement.  As the permitting process proceeds how are management, operations, corporate, the public, and the regulators going to be involved?  Too often, a corporate environmental staff person is charged with applying for the permit, hiring outside consultants to assist in the process and is ultimately evaluated on whether or not the permit was obtained in a timely manner.  This can result in permits that simply do not work or are very costly to implement at the operations level.  The following list of procedures to follow during permitting activities can help to ensure that the final permit is operationally functional and cost effective:

1.      A single secure storage area for environmental compliance files is important.  Part of this secure storage (usually one of several locked file cabinets) should be dedicated to environmental permits (the permits themselves, not permit correspondence) and the operating files required by the various regulations (this would include monitoring records, monitoring equipment calibration documentation, emissions control or monitoring repair records, analytical records, etc.)  These files will be the files most often requested by an agency inspector and should be readily and easily accessible and free of internal correspondence, legal opinion, etc. and other extraneous data.

2.      A comprehensive environmental training program for all plant personnel responsible for environmental compliance is needed.  This would be similar in scope to health and safety compliance program training.  Such a program would provide both initial and periodic update training.

3.      Contractors employed within a plant should receive environmental compliance training as appropriate for their contracted activities.  In addition, applicable environmental compliance requirements should be added to the contracts of these contractors similar in scope to the OSHA requirements that are typically addressed in contracts.

4.      Frequently the regulations allow for two or more ways to demonstrate compliance.  Many times this is broken down into manual and automated methods.  The selection of which to choose should include the people who will be making the compliance effort; this includes the maintenance staff as well as the production staff.  It is very possible the automated method will generate more work just maintaining the equipment.  This, however, can be offset by the diagnostic information such units can provide as noted in Case Study 4.

5.      The plant environmental and operations managers should represent the company in local and state professional organizations or organizations that lobby local and state agencies.  Clearly it is in the company’s best interest to establish these contacts by local representatives that have connection to the community.

6.      Operator’s get very good at associating certain operational anomalies with subsequent operational problems. Some of this is unalloyed folklore with no rational basis for its occurrence. It still can be, however, useful in diagnosing recurring emission exceedances. It may turn out that a new, larger, air pollution control device is not needed, maybe just a few operational changes are needed instead.

7.      A manufacturer defines equipment capabilities based on a specified set of assumptions. In reality this equipment may be more or less capable than the manufacturer states. This is not surprising. But, it is the operations and maintenance people that see this first and first-hand. This real equipment capability must be considered when making decisions regarding permit operating parameters, and this consideration should involve the operations and maintenance people.

8.  Setting operating limits that become permit limits requires careful consideration. Generally these are set during a performance test that demonstrates compliance to the applicable standard. These tests are frequently run at operating parameters that are outside of the everyday normal limits to provide some leeway in operations without violations. However, it is important that the facility be operated at its performance test limits well in advance of the test day to determine that these limits are sustainable for the testing period. This is not a mere testing of the equipment, it is the training of the operators in how to operate at these levels for the time needed to execute the test. Not only does this determine if the selected operating limits are sustainable for the test, it may make the difference between a successful test and a failed test, or between being on budget or over budget.

9.      The greatest non-revenue generating effort a production facility expends is frequently in compliance activities of one type or another.  Compliance activities can save the facility a lot of money in potential fines.  Consequently, facility management must be intimately involved in every aspect of regulatory compliance, including permit provisions negotiation, response to notice of violations (NOVs), document submittals in support of permitting or compliance, etc.  In short, the facility must be the conduit for any correspondence and communication with the regulatory authorities.  To do otherwise creates an “us” versus “them” tension.  The facility management could otherwise rightly believe that they were held to a set of rules that they have no control over and which impacts their production capabilities.  Without participation in the establishment of these rules, facility management will not “buy-in” to the regime needed to comply with the regulations.  This can become even more contentious when facility management discovers that less onerous compliance requirements were available but not utilized.  Consequently all environmental permitting and compliance communications should be routed through the facility management to the regulatory authorities.  This will also ensure that the facility has a full and complete record of any negotiations and agreements, which may be needed for subsequent response to agency requests.


In order to further expand on the concept of “common sense” innovative permitting, four case studies with specific examples are provided below.

Case Study 1 Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Plans under Title V and MACT Permitting – Defining “Startup” and “Shutdown”. 

The EPA defines startup and shutdown as:  Startup means the setting in operation of an affected source or portion of an affected source for any purpose.  Shutdown means the cessation of operation of an affected source or portion of an affected source for any purpose.

Followed too literally this could create a tremendous reporting burden. For a facility with numerous conveyors that operate on demand the recordkeeping becomes nearly unbelievable.  If, however, the startup and shutdown is defined in terms of starting and stopping the dust collectors that service these conveyors, the recordkeeping becomes manageable. The startup then is defined as the dust collector being fully operable, its bag blowback cycle set and energized, its dust removal system operating properly, etc. Essentially the dust collector is “in service” or has “started up” even if the equipment it services is not.  The opposite of this would be a “shutdown”.

These events are usually limited to a few times a year, which is infrequent enough to make the recordkeeping manageable. This redefinition of startup and shutdown is focused on the air contaminant being controlled, which is ultimately what is regulated, rather than the broader “affected source” of the contaminant. Certainly this is a different interpretation than an EPA inspector may have. It is, however, consistent with what EPA has stated with regard to the definition of “malfunction”. That is, the EPA saw no reason to classify an event as a malfunction if it did not cause or have the potential to cause an emission exceedance.

Case Study 2 – Visual Particulate Monitoring – The Use of Technology to Aid in Record Keeping and Reporting.

The greatest burden in visual particulate monitoring is in making the observations and in documenting these observations. Software created by Trinity Consultants called “VEMs” for “Visible Emissions Monitoring Systems”, allows observations to be entered into a handheld computer and subsequently downloaded into a database can reduce this recordkeeping chore to a minimum. The software displays a schematic of the facility. The observer selects the source he wishes to observe – the display indicates where he is to stand and once the observations start, prompts for a reading at the proper time intervals. The system also provides a pass/fail rating for Method 22 testing and alerts the user to test using Method 9 if a Method 22 test fails. Similar technology can be utilized for visual inspections of facilities such as hazardous waste storage areas.

         Case Study 3 – Generic Raw Material and Fuel Specifications of Combustion Systems

        Alternate raw materials and fuels can affect emission limits for some industrial processes.  Consequently, it is very important to have a program for analyzing potential raw materials and fuels and routinely analyzing receipts of alternate raw materials and fuels.  This is needed to ensure that these materials do not have hazardous waste constituents or other constituents that may adversely impact emissions.

It may be possible to define a raw material or fuel specification that includes a wider variety.  Specify the characteristics that affect the environmental quality the regulations are concerned with.  It should not make any difference if the fuel is coal or coke as long as the effect of sulfur is accounted for, yet there are permits that restrict the quantity of coke used versus coal even if the coal used has very low sulfur content. The permit should specify the sulfur feedrate rather than the quantity of coke used. 

On the other hand asking for something not needed can be time consuming and costly.  Having the ability and desire to use a wide variety of raw materials may be a problem if one of those raw materials requires special permitting.  Some localities consider some alternate raw materials to be wastes that must be managed where other materials do not have such restrictions.  Discuss this with your production people, not all raw materials are created equal, some simply will not be worth the extra effort.  

         Case Study 4 – A Positive Impact on Operations and Maintenance

There is a positive reported side effect of having a required continuous opacity monitor on a dust emission stack with a baghouse.  These systems generate a six minute average to meet a compliance requirement. The instantaneous values, changing every 10 to 15 seconds however, will indicate spikes if a few bags in a section are leaking during the cycled blowbacks. It does not take very long for maintenance to figure out which section of bags is leaking. This reduces maintenance diagnostic efforts and equipment downtime. Consequently it is worthwhile to consider the utility of the required monitoring system for reducing maintenance. In this example an instantaneous opacity display near the bag blowback cycling controller would be of immediate use to maintenance and may be useful in enlisting maintenance and operations to “buy into” an electronic monitoring program.


         Remember, prepare the scene, stay involved, and use “common sense” in permitting.