When Do EPA BACT Requirements “Redesign the Source”? Not When EPA Says They Don’t

Shortly before the holidays, EPA Administrator Jackson issued an Order in response to a challenge to a combined Title V / PSD permit issued by the Kentucky Division for Air Quality to an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant. The Order upheld the challenge, in part, on the ground that neither the permittee nor KDAQ had adequately justified why the BACT analysis for the facility did not include consideration of full-time use of natural gas notwithstanding that the plant is an IGCC facility. 

The Order may not be shocking in today’s environment – all meanings of that word intended – but the lengths to which the Order goes to avoid its own logical consequences shows just what a departure this decision is from established practice concerning BACT. BACT analyses have traditionally involved the proverbial “top-down” look at technologies that can be used to control emissions from a proposed facility. In other words, EPA takes the proposal as a given, and then asks what the best available control technology is for that facility

In EPA’s own words – from its New Source Review Workshop Manual (long the Bible for BACT analysis):

Historically, EPA has not considered the BACT requirement as a means to redefine the design of the source when considering available control alternatives. For example, applicants proposing to construct a coal-fired electric generator, have not been required by EPA as part of a BACT analysis to consider building a natural gas-fired electric turbine although the turbine may be inherently less polluting per unit product (in this case electricity).

Apt example, don’t you think? (In case you are wondering, EPA’s decision does not discuss or refer to this text from the NSR Manual.)

What was the basis for EPA’s decision here? Largely, it is that the IGCC facility will be designed to burn natural gas as well as syngas and the permittee specifically stated that it planned to combust natural gas during a 6-12 month startup period. On these facts, EPA concluded that the permittee and KDAQ had to do a better job explaining why full-time use of natural gas should be considered “to redefine the design of the source.”

As noted above, EPA went to great lengths to minimize the scope of the decision. It states that the Order:

should in no way be interpreted as EPA expressing a policy preference for construction of natural-gas fired facilities over IGCC facilities.

should not be interpreted to establish or imply an EPA position that PSD permitting authorities should conclude … that BACT for a proposed electricity generating unit is … natural gas.

does not conclude that it is not possible or permissible for the permit applicant … to develop a rationale which shows that firing exclusively with natural gas would “redefine the source.”

EPA does not intend to discourage applicants that propose to construct an IGCC facility from seeking to hedge the risk of investing in … IGCC technology by proposing … utilizing natural gas for some period….

Methinks EPA doth protest too much. If I may say so, this is a freakin’ IGCC facility. Isn’t it obvious that one doesn’t plan or build an IGCC facility if one plans to burn natural gas? Don’t you think that EPA could have taken administrative notice of what IGCC technology is?

All of EPA’s protestations about the Order’s limits may be designed to mollify IGCC supporters, but what does its rationale mean for all of the existing facilities – coal and oil – that are already capable of firing on natural gas? Next time they are subject to NSR/PSD review, must they evaluate the possibility of switching completely to natural gas? As I’ve said here before, yikes!

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