My son has asthma and the wildfire smoke has been making him cough. It is a nasty, goopy cough, which has garnered some fun stares in COVID times. His asthma specialist recommended that we purchase HEPA air purifiers and place them in our home. This is also the best way to deal with wildfire smoke even if you do not have asthma. However, if you do not want to go out and buy expensive HEPA filters, check out this great video from the University of Michigan on how to make a HEPA air purifier yourself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH5APw_SLUU
Cities in the United States have seen a noticeable improvement in air quality because of reduced vehicle miles traveled. Improved air quality that has been the result of people staying at home recently could help some marginal nonattainment areas meet the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 0.070 ppm Ozone. That would mean some nonattainment areas could see improved air quality that would help them avoid more stringent permit limits on Nitrogen Oxide and Volatile Organic Compound pollution, which are Ozone precursors. The avoidance of more stringent limits could be beneficial to industry in the designated marginal nonattainment areas.
Avoiding a more stringent designation, however, could be quite tricky. Just as states have argued that events such as wildfires are “Exceptional Events” and should be exempted from data for the area, it is also likely that “Exceptional Event” designation would be used in the opposite manner in this situation. Environmental groups could argue that areas which met the standard due to the impact of COVID-19 should not be able to use the improved air quality data to avoid more stringent reclassification.
Clean Air Act Section 107, 42 USC Section 7407(d)(3)(E)(iii) states that nonattainment redesignation needs to show that “improvement in air quality is due to permanent and enforceable reductions in emissions resulting from implementation of the applicable implementation plan.” States would have figure out a way to make reductions part of the implementation plan and enforceable.
If there is a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, reduction in overall vehicle miles traveled and longer-term improved air quality could be it. Many companies have been able to use the stay at home orders to improve their work-from-home capabilities. It is also possible that some companies will continue to let more employees work from home, which could show permanent reductions in ozone levels in nonattainment areas even over time. The pandemic has shown us that it is possible to get people out of cars and the impact does reduce air pollution in cities – and fast. Now it will be interesting to see if these changes lead to permanent policy changes and improvements in overall air quality in cities, which would help the people living in those cities to breathe cleaner air and it could help industry avoid more stringent air permit limitations.
It is interesting to see how reduced traffic has had a quick impact on air quality: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/climate/coronavirus-usa-traffic.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap
Yesterday was a busy day for air quality in Colorado! Governor Jared Polis signed a Greening the Government Executive Order which sets specific targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. See the announcement here: https://www.colorado.gov/governor/news/gov-polis-signs-greening-government-executive-order
The EPA also sent out a press release stating that it is finalizing the reclassification of the Denver Front Range as a “serious” nonattainment area for ozone. The reclassification won’t be final until it is published in the Federal Register, which will likely happen in the next few days. See the update on Denver 7 News here: https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/state-news/epa-lowers-denver-areas-air-quality-rating-to-serious
Should two adjacent sources be combined for air permitting purposes? On the surface this may seem like a simple question. However, guidance from the EPA on this topic has switched over the years. Originally, in 1980, the EPA focused on combining sources that were adjacent in terms of physical proximity as well as industrial grouping and common control. Over the years the policy has been interpreted differently by using case-specific facts related to shared equipment, shared workforce, ownership and contracts.
On November 26, 2019 the EPA issued a new memorandum providing guidance on this issue. This memo focuses on using a common dictionary definition of contiguous which means that two pieces of land should be in physical contact with one another. The new memo can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-11/documents/adjacent_guidance.pdf
It is important to note that each scenario is different and often an attorney should review the facts specific to each case. This most recent memo from the EPA provides guidance for permitting authorities. They are encouraged to, but do not have to follow this guidance.
Industry and citizens in Colorado are holding their breath for major changes that will be happening in our state in the upcoming months. The Denver metro region is a non-attainment area for ozone. This means that our air quality is worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. Ozone precursors are VOC and NOx. Currently Sources that emit over 100 tons per year of VOC and NOx need to have Title V permits. However, this will soon change. The change is expected in the second half of 2019 or early 2020. Current sources that have air permits with VOC or NOx emissions between 50 and 100 tons per year are going to have to either limit their emissions to less than 50 tons per year or apply for a Title V permit within 1 year of the serious designation. If a source intends to submit a synthetic minor permit, which would limit their emissions to less than 50 tons per year, then the permit needs to be ISSUED by the Air Pollution Control Division within the 12-month period after the change to avoid Title V permit application requirements. In some cases, the revised permit will need to be issued before July 1, 2020 to avoid additional RACT analysis. Often permits take several months to be issued by the Air Pollution Control Division, so applications for synthetic minor permits need to be submitted in the upcoming months.
Colorado also passed Senate Bill 181 which calls for a reorganization of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and to prioritize their mission on the protection of Public Safety, Health and Welfare, the Environment, while also requiring additional regulation from the Air Quality Control Commission for the oil and gas sector and transmission sector. These changes will likely take years to complete.
Additional legislation was passed including HB 19-1261 which calls for a Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution and SB19-96 which aims to Collect Long-Term Climate Change Data. This legislation also establishes sweeping air emissions and environmental rulemakings and changes in the coming years and decades.
At Applewood Environmental, our mission is to stay on top of these regulatory changes and guide our clients through them to remain in compliance and also give their businesses the ability to grow. Call or email us to see how Applewood can help guide your company through these changes: 303-981-0607 or Bethany@applewoodenvironmental.com.
Colorado Greenhouse Gas Inventory
The Colorado Senate passed SB 19-096 in May of this year in an effort to establish cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions. This bill builds upon the original directive given in 2018, which was to develop a greenhouse gas reporting tool which mirrored that which is already in place on the federal level in the event that reporting is suspended by the EPA. Instead SB 19-096 mandates that the Air Quality Control Commission adopt rules requiring greenhouse gas emitting entities to monitor and publicly report their emissions every one to two years in an effort to achieve Colorado’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goal of 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. This additional reporting will be meant to fill in data gaps that exist at the federal level and must include a recalculation of Colorado’s 2005 emissions as a baseline.
The next step on the road to establishing cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reduction goals is for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to publish the most updated state greenhouse gas report. A draft was recently released by CDPHE and is located here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1120LdxmecGTuf7uil9l6YmjOQonYOnxV/view
The report being released this year is for data through 2015. The state of Colorado did the first inventory in 1990 and they have been trying to update it about every 5 years. In 2014 CDPHE used the state used the State Inventory Tool (SIT), which is a spreadsheet-based program from the EPA that all states can use. Emission factors used in the SIT are based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and EPA guidance. The 2019 report also uses the SIT tool.
There are strengths and weaknesses of the SIT tool. It does provide some consistency between states and it incorporates updates to methodology. It uses 1990 baseline data and runs through the most recent data year (which is through 2015 and reported in 2019). It also provides default activity data and emission factors.
Unfortunately, the tool also has some limitations. The biggest issue is that it has a 3-5-year data lag. Also, not all data is state specific and may be incomplete. Projections use different methodology and some calculations are not transparent. It also has limited ability to assess policy impacts. This methodology only shows emissions that are a snapshot in time.
There was not huge change from 1990 to 2015 in Colorado but projections by most sectors from 2010-2015 are trending down. In 1990 electric power and transportation were big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The bullets below are from data through 2015:
- Electric power is down. The amount coal being burned is down, but natural gas is increasing. Overall fuel use is decreasing.
- Emissions from oil and natural gas have increased. Natural gas and oil have seen huge increases in production and in the report, emissions track the number of wells. However, the SIT doesn’t include data to account for reductions.
Agriculture has increased from manure and fertilizer applications.
- Coal mining emissions are way down.
- Transportation has increased with population. However, even though Colorado has had an increase in population, the per capita emissions are decreasing. Transportation emissions since 2010 are starting to decrease, which is due to more efficient vehicles and turnover in fleet.
- Gross state product has increased and emissions relative to gross state product are decreasing.
Heating, which includes heating homes, industrial, and commercial heating is growing.
- Industrial processes like cement, limestone, dolomite and semiconductor manufacturing have been trending up and will continue as population increases.
- Waste management which includes landfills and wastewater treatment have shown that emissions are increasing.
On November 21st, 2019 the division is scheduled to give a briefing to the Air Quality Control Commission to review the requirements from SB-096, present proposed changes to the inventory process and to provide a progress update. The initial rulemaking is scheduled for a Request for Hearing in February 2020 and then a hearing will be in May 2020. SB 19-096 calls for measures that would implement cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reduction goals to be published by July 1, 2020.
As an Air Quality Scientist and a mother of an asthmatic child, I found this article particularly interesting:
What does a “serious” classification mean for industry? In short it means that smaller facilities are going to have to get major source, or Title V permits. Currently the area is classified as a “moderate” non-attainment area and therefore major source permits have been required for sources that emit 100 tons per year of VOC, NOx, CO or PM. However, if the Front Range is classified as “serious” non-attainment, sources will need Title V permits if they emit 50 tons per year of VOC, NOx, CO or 70 tons per year of PM. See Governor Polis’ latest move to keep the state moving forward into “serious” classification below: