2021 Pennsylvania Air Permit Fees Skyrocket, Will You Be Paying Too Much?

From the desk of Gavin Biebuyck

On September 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approved the final Environmental Quality Board regulation increasing PA DEP’s Air Quality Program fees.  The IRRC’s summary of the regulation, the PA DEP’s statutory authority to impose the fees, and the justification for the fee increases can be found here:

http://files.dep.state.pa.us/PublicParticipation/Public%20Participation%20Center/PubPartCenterPortalFiles/Environmental%20Quality%20Board/2020/July%2021/7-536_Final_AQFees/05a_7-536_AQ%20Fees_Final_RAF.pdf

The regulation will be final when published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. The increased permit application and permit renewal fees will be effective January 1, 2021.  However, as detailed below, operating permit fees for 2021 are expected to be assessed and due to PA DEP before the end of this year.

Operating Permit Maintenance Fees

The first impact of this regulation will be the new, much higher, annual maintenance fees which DEP will be assessing for any operating permit holder within 60 days of the effective date of the regulation for next year’s operation.  This means the 2021 fees will be due before the end of this year.  Permittees holding minor source State Only Operating Permits will be subject to annual fees of either $2,000 or $4,000 compared with the current annual fee of $375.  Major sources holding Title V Operating Permits will be subject to a new flat fee of $8,000 in addition to the annual emissions fees, which will not be changed.  These annual maintenance fees will be due on or before December 31 of each year for the following calendar year.

The annual maintenance fees will be assessed based on whether facilities are classified as major Title V sources, synthetic minor sources, or natural minor sources.  Synthetic minor sources will be assessed $4,000 per year and natural minor sources will be assessed $2,000 per year.  Classification depends on a review of your facility’s air emissions inventory to determine if any restrictions on operating hours, production rates, or fuel consumption are necessary to limit potential to emit (PTE) to below major source thresholds, which are expressed in terms of maximum annual emissions in tons per year (TPY).  These thresholds depend on where your facility is located in Pennsylvania.  For example, the major source level is 50 TPY for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in  the state except for the 5-County Philadelphia area, where the level is lower at 25 TPY.  If restrictions are necessary to limit emissions below these levels, your facility is classified as synthetic minor.  If no restrictions are required and the PTE is below the levels, your facility is classified as natural minor.

In most cases, permit holders submit annual air emissions reports (AIMS or AES reports) to PA DEP and can develop a PTE emissions evaluation based on these reports.  However, there are many minor source permittees that are not required to submit annual emissions reports and that should develop an emissions inventory to determine which fee will be assessed and/or if they may be eligible for exemption from air permitting and the new fees.  For example, in the case of VOC emissions, an operating permit is not required if emissions are below 8 TPY (assuming all other pollutants are below their respective thresholds).  In our experience, there are many permittees who hold permits for painting or printing operations who have switched to water-based, low-VOC, coatings and inks, and who may therefore be exempt from operating permit requirements and the new fees.

2021 Pennsylvania Air Quality Fee Schedule for Title V Facilities

2021 Pennsylvania Air Quality fee Schedule for Non Title V Facilities Construction Permit Fees

PA DEP requires Plan Approval prior to installation and operation of new air pollution sources or new air pollution control devices.  Plan Approval fees for simple permit applications have been $1,000 or $1,700 depending on the type of source.  Under the new fee regulation these fees will increase to between $2,500 – $10,000 depending on the type of source and how many federal air regulations apply to the source.  The fees will now be “cumulative” and a single source, like an oil-fired boiler could be subject to a $7,500 fee, simply because two separate federal regulations (NSPS Subpart Dc and NESHAP Subpart 6J) apply to the boiler.

Fees for more complicated permit applications will also increase substantially.  For example, sources requiring major source permitting under the federal PSD program will be subject to a fee of $32,500, up from the current fee of $22,500.  Any source requiring a risk assessment will be subject to a new fee of either $10,000 or $25,000 depending on whether the assessment is limited to inhalation risks or requires a multi-pathway risk assessment.

For the first time, PA DEP will be assessing a fee for air permit exemption Request for Determination (RFD) reviews.  The fee will be $600 effective 2021, with a lower fee of $400 for small businesses.

Final-Form Pennylvania Air Quality Fee Schedule for Risk Assessments, Asbestos Notifications and Requests for Determination

Fee Planning Recommendations

Over the past two years Liberty Environmental has assisted multiple Pennsylvania clients with evaluation of their air permit needs and changes to their operating permits, from major source Title V permits to minor source permits.  We have also helped other clients avoid the need for operating permits by preparing RFD applications which demonstrate that emissions are below the permit trigger levels.  We recommend that PA air permittees immediately review their air emissions inventories and develop a PTE analysis to determine if options are available to reduce or avoid the impending fee increases.