EPA Finally Issues GHG BACT Guidance: Now Everything Will Be Smooth Sailing

EPA has finally released it long-awaited PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases, also known as the GHG BACT Guidance. E&E News quoted Gina McCarthy as saying that GHG permitting would be “business as usual” and that the transition to issuing PSD permits for GHGs would be relatively smooth.


It’s certainly true that the GHG BACT Guidance says nothing particularly new about how permitting agencies should perform BACT reviews. Giving credit where credit is due, I’ll complement EPA for using plain English and describing the basic BACT process about as cogently and concisely as I’ve seen. The BACT Guidance also heavily emphasizes the use of energy efficiency measures in attaining BACT for GHGs, as has been expected. That should provide at least some comfort to the regulated community.

Having praised the BACT Guidance, I’ll now do my best to bury it. I just don’t think anyone can truly say that it actually provides any guidance to either state permitting agencies or the regulated community regarding what in fact will constitute BACT. In fairness to EPA, I think that’s because they don’t know, but that’s hardly a comforting thought. It’s got to be worrisome to regulated facilities that they are now subject to a requirement to demonstrate BACT for GHG when they make a major modification at their facility and they simply don’t know what it will take to comply with the GHG requirements.

Take, for example, EPA’s discussion of when an agency requirement to evaluate a particular control option might be considered to “redefine the source.” The BACT Guidance discusses this issue for six pages, but provides what seems to me to be no guidance at all. The Guidance repeats the bromide that

EPA has recognized that a Step 1 list of options need not necessarily include inherently lower polluting processes that would fundamentally redefine the nature of the source proposed by the permit applicant. BACT should generally not be applied to regulate the applicant’s purpose or objective for the proposed facility.

However, the Guidance then ominously states that permitting agencies must

take a ‘hard look’ at the applicant’s proposed design in order to discern which design elements are inherent for the applicant’s purpose and which design elements may be changed to achieve pollutant emissions reductions without disrupting the applicant’s basic business purpose.

If that doesn’t send chills down the spines of engineers everywhere, I don’t know what will.  Similarly, the guidance says that “EPA continues to believe that permitting authorities can show in most cases (my emphasis) that the option of using natural gas as a primary fuel would fundamentally redefine a coal-fired electric generating unit.”  Unfortunately, the guidance then notes that where a power plant already combusts another fuel, such as for start-up purposes, it would be appropriate to evaluate whether use of that fuel might be BACT.

The Guidance is too long to summarize fully in a blog post, but I do want to leave you with one image, courtesy of EPA. In discussing the requirement to identify energy efficiency options, the Guidance helpfully states that not “every conceivable improvement that could marginally improve the energy efficiency of the new facility” need be listed. In making this concession, EPA cited to Sierra Club v. EPA, which “recognized the undesirability of making the BACT analysis into a ‘Sisyphean labor where there was always one more option to consider.’”

We can only hope that EPA and state permitting agencies really take those words to heart as this process unfolds. I’m not optimistic.






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