A Lumber Mill Biomass CoGen Need Not Consider Other Fuels In Its BACT Analysis. Other Sources Should Be So Lucky.

Posted on September 8, 2016 by Seth Jaffe

Ever since EPA began considering how BACT analysis would be applied to greenhouse gas emissions, there has been concern that EPA would use its BACT authority to “redefine the source” – with the particular concern that BACT for a coal plant would now be to burn natural gas instead.  In Helping Hands Tools v. EPA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week gave some protection to biomass plants biomassfrom such redefinition of the source.  However, other types of facilities will get no comfort from the decision.

Helping Hands Tools involved a challenge to a PSD permit issued to Sierra Pacific for a cogeneration plant to be located at one of its existing lumber mills.  Under EPA’s BACT Guidance, Sierra Pacific stated that the purpose of the CoGen plant was to use wood waste from the mill and nearby facilities to generate electricity and heat. Relying in part on the 7th Circuit decision in Sierra Club v. EPA, which held that it would impermissibly redefine the source to require a mine-mouth coal generating plant to consider different fuels in its BACT analysis, the 9th Circuit found that EPA was reasonable in determining that, because a fundamental purpose of the CoGen plant was to burn wood waste, it would impermissibly redefine the source to require Sierra Pacific to consider solar power as part of its BACT analysis.

Importantly, the Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ request that Sierra Pacific consider greater use of natural gas.  The Court concluded that very limited use of natural gas for the purposes of startup, shutdown, and flame stabilization did not undermine the fundamental purpose to burn wood waste.  This is critical to source-located biomass facilities, because EPA’s GHG Permitting Guidance specifically says that greater use of an existing fuel should be considered in the BACT analysis:

"unless it can be demonstrated that such an option would disrupt the applicant’s basic business purpose for the proposed facility."

Unfortunately, the language of the decision appears to me to give EPA substantial leeway in future BACT analyses to redefine the source in other cases.  It seems to me that, building on the 7th Circuit decision, the Court has simply created an exception to potential source redefinition in circumstances where the location of the facility justifies a very narrow fuel selection.  If a coal plant intends to burn coal from the mine next door, ok.  If a lumber mill intends to burn its own wood waste, ok.  Otherwise, however, all bets are off.

What is particularly troubling was the Court’s acknowledgement that the GHG BACT guidance is vague, and its deference to EPA’s application of its own vague guidance. This is precisely the concern I noted when the Guidance was first issued.  Time will tell, but I foresee some fairly extreme BACT determinations being blessed by some very deferential courts.

Is Combined-Cycle the New Simple Cycle BACT?

Posted on October 17, 2012 by Deborah Jennings

By Deborah Jennings and Andrew Schatz

If California regulators approve a proposed AES combined-cycle natural gas-fired peaking power plant, it could blur the standard for Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from gas-fired electric generating facilities.  EPA expressly excluded simple cycle peaking units from its recently proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for GHGs because combined cycle units, which are GHG lower-emitting, were presumed not to be useable as peakers.  By virtue of AES’s proposed combined-cycle peaking plant, EPA may be moved to change its view. Low-emitting combined cycle may set the BACT standard for future, gas-fired peaking units as a result. 

AES is proposing to use a combined-cycle system in a peaking capacity at its Huntington Beach Energy Project (HBEP) in Huntington Beach, California.  See AES Southland Development, LLC, BACT Determination for the Huntington Beach Energy Project (June 2012).  The HBEP will consist of two combined cycle power blocks with a net capacity of 939 MW to be used for peaking and supplying local capacity.  AES’s proposal to use combined-cycle for a peaking unit is notable because typically peakers have been simple cycle systems.  The combined-cycle system is more efficient than simple cycle systems and has lower GHG emission rates.  Whereas simple cycle systems combust natural gas to generate electricity, combined cycle-systems also capture lost heat from the combustion process to generate additional electricity through a steam turbine (i.e. a heat recovery steam generator).  Accordingly, BACT for GHG emissions at the HBEP project results in an GHG emissions rate of 1,082 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (lbs CO2/MWh).  In contrast, a recent BACT determination for the simple cycle “peaking” power plant at the Pio Pico Energy Center in San Diego was 1,181 lbs CO2/MWh.

Regulatory agencies have struggled to determine what constitutes GHG BACT for natural gas (and other fossil-fuel) fired power plants.  Regulatory authorities have declined to require natural gas-fired power plant projects to consider GHG lower emitting combined-cycle technologies in a BACT analysis.  For example, in June 2012, Wisconsin authorities declined EPA Region V’s request to consider the use of combined-cycle gas turbines in a GHG permit for a wastewater utility fuelled by landfill gas. 

EPA has sent conflicting signals on the issue.  In the past, EPA has suggested from time to time that combined cycle be considered in the BACT analysis for natural gas plants.   However, in drafting its New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for GHG Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units (EGUs), EPA concluded that it cannot require proposed simple cycle facilities to meet the NSPS designed for combined-cycle natural gas facilities based on functional differences in peaking plants.  77 Fed. Reg. 22392 (April 13, 2012). 

Specifically, EPA declined to include simple cycle facilities as an affected source in the proposed 40 CFR part 60, subpart TTTT for GHG emissions from new facilities governing combined-cycle plants and coal-fired plants.  Id. at 22411.  In its NSPS proposal, EPA required new fossil fuel-fired EGUs greater than 25 MW to meet an output-based standard of 1,000 lb CO2/MWh, representing the performance of widely used natural gas combined cycle technology.  Id. at 22392.  (Interestingly, in setting the NSPS at 1,000 lb CO2/MWh, EPA proposes a more stringent threshold for GHG emissions from new facilities than even HBEP).  In choosing to exclude simple-cycle facilities from this standard, EPA reasoned that unlike combined-cycle plants (which are typically designed to provide baseload power and are able to emit CO2 at similar levels), simple-cycle plants are typically designed to provide peaking power, operate less, and “it would be much more expensive to lower their emission profile to that of a combined cycle power plant.”  Id. at 22411.

In proposing a relatively lower emitting combined-cycle for a peaking unit, the AES project casts doubt on EPA’s conclusion that simple cycle is different.  Accordingly, EPA may come to impose combined-cycle BACT limits on future natural gas combustion peaking facilities.

Odor Regulations Stink

Posted on September 6, 2012 by Kevin Finto

Federal and state regulators have, over the years, frequently received complaints about odor.  Because the problem is a common one -- and because the origins of environmental law lie, in part, in the common law of public nuisance -- one might think we would have developed a consistent, practical way of regulating odor.  We haven’t.  No federal laws address odor, and the  various state laws and rules addressing odor are a hodge-podge of not fully-considered  ideas. 

This is likely due in part to the subjective nature of odor:  one person’s stench may be another person’s sweet smell of success.  More importantly, though, there is no commonly accepted way of quantifying or measuring odor.  If you cannot define something precisely and cannot agree on how to measure it, it necessarily follows that you will have a hard time regulating it.    There have been attempts to use odor measurement technologies including the scentometer or field olfactometer, but they ultimately rely on subjective human olfactory assessment.  While some states allow them as a guide, it does not appear that any statutory or regulatory scheme has adopted their use, and in fact, some states legislatures have adopted resolutions prohibiting their agencies from using such technologies for enforcement purposes.

So what is a regulator to do?  Consider the efforts made by one state, my beloved Commonwealth.  Virginia has tried to cram the square peg of odor into the round hole of the Best Available Control Technology (“BACT”) requirement of the Clean Air Act’s prevention of significant deterioration of air quality (“PSD”) preconstruction permitting program.  Applying the BACT process to odor may have sounded like a good idea back in the day when the PSD rules were first adopted and BACT was a sexy new acronym, but implementation of the BACT approach for odor has not been easy. 

At the outset, there is the difficulty that the BACT process applies only to things that are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.  Not everything that regulators want to regulate under the Clean Air Act, however, is considered a “pollutant” under the Act.  (If you doubt this, recall that it took many years of agency action and litigation and decisions by the United States Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court before it was generally accepted that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.)  And so it is with odor, which is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as  “a quality of something that stimulates the olfactory nerves or the stimulation itself.  In short, odor is definitely not a “typical” Clean Air Act pollutant.  (Interestingly, certain substances that are pollutants, also carry the name “aromatic” if they also happen to be organic compounds with a cyclical structure, but I digress.) 

Even if one can accept that “odor” is a “pollutant,” though, can the BACT process be applied to it?  Not really.  ”Best available control technology” means “an emission limitation based on the maximum degree of reduction of [a pollutant . . .] which the permitting authority . . . , taking into account energy, environmental, and economic impacts and other costs, determines is achievable . . . .” Clean Air Act § 169(3).  And typically BACT is determined through a top-down approach, i.e., one starts with the most stringent emission limitation theoretically achievable and then moves down from there only if the various costs of that approach are too high.  How can such an approach work for odor, though, when we do not have a unit measure for odor, much less a quantitative scale for objectionable scent.  Without such a measure or scale, it is effectively impossible to evaluate whether the environmental, economic or energy costs of reducing odor are reasonable or cost-effective.

So, if my beloved Commonwealth doesn’t now have the answer, let me cast my net more broadly and ask if anyone knows of a good practical scheme for regulating odor.

When Do EPA BACT Requirements "Redesign the Source"? Not When EPA Says They Don't

Posted on January 7, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

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!

When Do EPA BACT Requirements "Redesign the Source"? Not When EPA Says They Don't

Posted on January 7, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

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!