Navigating Cleaner Air Oregon (CAO)

To track emissions at the national level, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires Oregon (and other states) to conduct statewide inventories from all sources of air pollution. These data collected from across the country are used for making new rules and modeling air pollution.

A few years in the making, Cleaner Air Oregon (CAO) addresses this need and is already affecting many companies in the state. As of November 2018, all permitted facilities should have already submitted emissions inventories for their sources to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

In addition to closing previous loopholes, CAO evaluates potential air toxics health risks (for cancer and non-cancer health effects) to people living, working or going to school near industrial and commercial facilities, and reduces those risks to below action levels adopted in law or rules.

 

In practical terms, what requirements do companies face?

CAO requires facilities to:

  • Report toxic air contaminant emissions
  • Assess potential health risks
  • Reduce risk if the level of risk posed by the toxic air contaminant exceed health risk action levels (RALs).  

 

Who is affected by Cleaner Air Oregon?

With the final rules now in place, DEQ has crunched the numbers from existing facilities that have submitted emissions inventories. These data helped DEQ identify four groups of facilities that are to initially go through the process, which “(…) considers types and amounts of emissions, information about existing controls and the surrounding community, and other factors.” Facilities in groups 1 and 2 were announced in March of 2019. Group 1 facilities will be called into the program within one year, and group 2 facilities will be called in during the next two to three years.

Published on March 01, 2019, the list is prioritized not by “worst-offenders” but rather volume. The sentiment is to identify where can these changes yield the greatest improvement to air quality across multiple regions of Oregon. It’s kind of like picking the low-hanging fruit — easily in reach and immediately satisfying.

How does the rule define new and existing facilities?

Larger new facilities applying for an air permit need to identify potential air toxics emissions and assess associated risks before submitting their permit application. Most new facilities applying for coverage under Basic or General Air Contaminant Discharge Permits will not be required to perform assessments at this time. New facilities that must incorporate CAO requirements in their permit application will need additional time prior to submitting the application to perform a risk screening and assessment. Not all new facility permits are currently required to perform these assessments, and DEQ will issue those permits within current timelines.

Why does DEQ use a Level 1 screening? Level 1 risk screens do not represent actual risk. These screens use very conservative assumptions (5-meter stack height, 50-meter distance from a residence, and others) to estimate a worst-case scenario of possible risk. In most cases, actual risk will be tens or hundreds of times lower than what is estimated by a Level 1 screening. Relatively simple to perform with the tool developed by Air Sciences, these screenings can be useful in calculating relative risks between many facilities (such as this prioritization process). Also, if a facility screens below benchmarks in a Level 1 assessment, it can be reasonably assumed that the site does not pose a significant risk.

Existing facilities are not required to perform risk assessments until DEQ notifies them that they are “called in” to the program (unless they are making a major facility modification). As of early 2019, DEQ is calling in the first group of existing facilities based on the results of a prioritization process currently underway. If an existing facility chooses to address CAO requirements during permit renewal or major modifications, DEQ will adjust permit timelines to allow for completion of the risk assessment and related evaluations that may be necessary. Completing a complex risk assessment could require up to a year, depending on the level of complexity required. Applications for permit modifications do not trigger Cleaner Air Oregon requirements unless they are making a major modification to their facility, and those timelines remain unchanged.

 

But can any other facility be “called in” at any time?

The short answer is yes. And the longer explanation of this is spelled out in the Cleaner Air Oregon rule (Oregon Administrative Rule 340-245-0050):

DEQ may at its discretion call in any facility at any time, regardless of the groups established in memo. Existing facilities are not required to perform risk assessments until DEQ notifies them that they are ‘called in’ to the program, unless they are making a major modification to their facility. If an existing facility chooses to address CAO requirements during permit renewal or major modifications, DEQ will adjust permit timelines in order to allow for completion of the risk assessment and related evaluations that may be necessary. Completing a complex risk assessment could require up to a year depending on the level of complexity required. Applications for permit modifications do not trigger Cleaner Air Oregon requirements unless they are making a major modification to their facility, and those timelines remain unchanged.

Clearly, waiting and seeing what happens is less effective than having a plan and being aware of the requirements in navigating this process.

One thing to keep in mind is that DEQ is also learning as much as facility owners in this process. New funding for the act has created 11 new DEQ positions. The new DEQ staff will write permits, engage communities, and provide technical assistance to facilities. These people are there to support you or your air quality consulting partner in coming into compliance. Other DEQ efforts currently underway include:

  • Training existing DEQ permitting staff on program requirements and procedures
  • Posting new and updated forms and guidance for permit applicants
  • Updating web-based resources and information
  • Communicating with new facilities that are starting risk assessment.

 

DEQ is not re-inventing the wheel.

The approach DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) are using to calculate risk-based concentrations (RBCs) is consistent with other state and federal programs. They are using the same data for health risk assessments and hazard index numbers that other states are using. Other states confidently rely on agency toxicity reference values (TRVs) as the basis for health-based industrial toxic air contaminant programs. Programs in ten other states (WA, NJ, RI, MA, NH, NY, GA, MN, MI, and NC) all rely primarily on TRVs from the EPA and U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Keep in mind, no agency has the resources to develop entirely new hazard indices. For you, this means working with a partner like Air Sciences has great benefits, as we have been supporting clients in Oregon and other states and are very familiar with what steps are needed for successfully charting your course.

Yes, the Cleaner Air Oregon process is definitely complex but far from scary. We are available to help you with:

  • Creating inventories of all air pollutant emissions from a facility and reporting these emissions as needed to the regulator.
  • Conducting Level 1 screening using the Air Sciences–developed tool and Level 2 and Level 3 emissions assessments.
  • Filing Cleaner Air Oregon permits and supporting documents.
  • Facilitating interaction between the facility and the regulator. Should RALs be exceeded, we will ensure that requirements to reduce pollution levels are achievable and leave flexibility for the facility to comply with regulations.
  • Performing air monitoring at a facility to assess health risk to the public, and also modelling air pollution concentrations in air dispersion modeling software to calculate health risk impacts around the facility.
  • Untangling questions around modeling, de minimis and exempt units, Best Available Control Technology for Toxics (TBACT) analysis, how the program affects Notices of Construction (NOC), and responding to agency requests.

 

We, at Air Sciences, firmly believe that a hands-on proactive plan helps keep our clients in the driver’s seat. This strategy lets you manage the process and not let the process manage you.

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