So What If It Is in the SIP …

Posted on December 15, 2011 by Carolyn Brown

EPA’s Draft Guidance for 1-Hour SO2 NAAQS SIP Submissions has been out for public comment since this fall and, after an extension published on October 28, 2011 at 76 FR 66925, the comment period will close December 2, 2011.  Many parts of this draft guidance may trigger comments, but one particularly troubling aspect from a programmatic perspective is EPA’s discussion in Appendix B of infrastructure SIP requirements under Clean Air Act Section 110(a)(2).


Section 110 of the Clean Air Act requires states to prepare plans for implementation, maintenance and enforcement of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and to submit those plans to EPA for approval.  The statute specifies in general terms the required content of these State Implementation Plans (SIPs).  EPA has issued regulations at 40 CFR Part 51 that address the requirements for SIP submittals.  When changes to the NAAQS occur such that the state will need to update its SIP to show how it will attain and maintain the new or revised NAAQS, EPA’s regulations allow states to certify that their existing approved infrastructure SIPs are adequate to address the elements of Section 110 and then focus on specific changes to address the new or revised standard.


The particularly disturbing portion of EPA’s draft guidance is the discussion of how to  address existing approved SIP provisions that treat excess emissions from startup, shutdown and malfunction events in a manner that EPA views to be inconsistent with agency guidance, or how to address variance and director’s discretion provisions that EPA says “do not comport with EPA policy.”  Guidance, at B-3.  EPA says it is “discussing options for resolving these issues” and notes that it has negotiated a settlement agreement to specify a deadline of August 31, 2012 to respond to a Sierra Club petition over SSM provisions in 39 states.  EPA then goes further:  “Therefore, as general guidance, EPA can advise that states not make infrastructure SIP submissions that rely on previously approved but potentially flawed provisions.”  Id., at B-4.  


There are mechanisms under the Clean Air Act to address deficiencies in SIPs – guidance from EPA to ignore approved SIP provisions is not one of the options.  As the Supreme Court recognized in General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 540 (1990), the existing SIP that has been approved under Section 110 of the Clean Air Act is the legally enforceable SIP.  In that enforcement action, the issue was the ability to enforce an existing SIP provision where a revision had been adopted by the state and EPA had not acted on the request to approve the revision in a timely manner.  The suggestion in the draft guidance that existing approved SIP provisions be ignored based on EPA policy does not comport with the Clean Air Act or case law. 



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