Hello everyone. Welcome to another edition of Envera at the Board (E@TB). Today, we’re going to talk about permits and process changes, so let’s get started.
[00:21] Air Permits and Rule 203
When it comes to permits, permits are issued to a specific process and/or piece of equipment. When you prepare a permit application, you’re going to have to prepare an engineering evaluation. Within this engineering evaluation, you will need to describe the piece of equipment or process that you’re trying to permit, the make and the model, the emissions, the material and process flow, the equipment, and the concentrations of the materials and/or chemicals used in the process/equipment.
This is just a short list, but within your engineering evaluation, you need to provide sufficient detail about the piece of equipment or process that you are trying to permit. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) will review all this information to determine whether or not the piece of equipment can comply with applicable regulations. In doing so, the AQMD will impose permit conditions on the face of the permit to ensure that the piece of equipment or process complies with the regulations applicable to that piece of equipment or process.
These conditions need to be adhered to at all times, and these conditions will be enforced by AQMD Rule 203(b). Information provided to the AQMD in an engineering evaluation is used determine permit conditions. To answer how the AQMD will do this is a little complex, but it’s fairly simple at the same time.
The way that the AQMD will tie Rule 203 back to the information that you submit in your permit application is that they will impose a condition that says something like:
OPERATION OF THIS EQUIPMENT SHALL BE CONDUCTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH ALL DATA AND SPECIFICATIONS SUBMITTED WITH THE APPLICATION UNDER WHICH THIS PERMIT IS ISSUED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED BELOW.
That condition will appear on the face of your permit. It appears on almost every single permit coming out of the AQMD. Therefore, the information that you provide in your engineering evaluation is enforced by Rule 203.
The information that you submit when you apply for your permit application is very important for two reasons. Number one, it’s important to communicate information to the AQMD so that they can process your application. Second, and more importantly, your process or piece of equipment must be operated consistent with the information that you submit in your permit application. The second piece is subtle, and a lot of people miss it. Because of that, it’s often a very common cause of problems within an environmental compliance program.
[05:37] Process Changes and Rule 203
Let’s talk about what happens when you go through a process change. Now, oftentimes we’ve experienced cases where a facility will make a process modification to operate a process more efficiently, to conserve materials, lower raw material cost, increase yield, or increase product quality. Whatever the case may be, it becomes a problem if the change is contrary to the information that was submitted initially to the AQMD because of Rule 203.
It’s a really big problem because a lot of times manufacturing facilities are very complex. They want to run very efficient and they’re always trying to do improvements. While improvements are always viewed as something good and necessary to better operate a process, you could have a problem with Rule 203.
What we want to do now is talk about three tips that you can use to address and prevent this sort of problem. This type of situation is fairly subtle when it comes to implementing and running an environmental program, but it’s very important nonetheless.
[08:04] First Tip to Prevent Rule 203 Issues When Changing a Process
The first tip to prevent Rule 203 issues is to simply know the information that was previously provided to the AQMD about the process or the piece of equipment that you’re operating. You’ll want to look through emails, determine what you told the district about this piece of equipment, and what sorts of questions the district had when they were processing that application.
Oftentimes, environmental departments are not included in internal communications. People are not copied on emails. They don’t know what’s happening, they don’t know that the district called. We understand that organizations are very complex. There’s so many channels of communication, but to the best you can, you should at least know what was communicated to the district and sort of have a central repository of all the information that was communicated to the district. It doesn’t have to be emails. It could be through letters, phone calls, faxes. It could be anything.
You want to know what was communicated to the district outside of the permit application, because oftentimes they’ll call you. You’ll take a phone call. You’ll be busy walking to a meeting, or eating a burrito or something, and you may just take care of a problem right then and there, but you may not log it down somewhere it will be easily found years down the road when a process change is occurring. Therefore, it’s important to try to find this information.
Most importantly, you’ll want to look through old permit applications. When it comes to submitting the information needed for your engineering evaluation, then you want to have all of the past permit applications on hand so that you can review them to know what was communicated to the district in terms of how this piece of equipment or process is going to operate. All of that is going to be in your permit application, so you want to review your permit application when trying to figure out what was communicated to the district in the past.
Within any organization, people move, there’s attrition, people get promoted, and people leave, so sometimes people forget to drop a permit application on server, or they may not keep the data in the central repository within your department. A common situation to be in is to know that there was a permit submitted to the district, but the permit application can’t be found. What can we do to get the permit application? We file a public records request to the directly to the AQMD.
I’ll link up the form that you can use to submit a public records request to the AQMD, and when you do this, you want to request in the application numbers related to the permit that’s in question. This is something that’s not talked about a lot, but the AQMD uses a permit number plus an application number. The permit number usually starts with a letter. Depending on the age of the permit, it could be A, B, C, D, or F. On the other hand, the application number is a 5 digit number, and again, depending on when your application was submitted, it could start with a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
Anytime you reference anything to the AQMD with respect to a permit, you want to reference the application number as opposed to the permit number. When you fill out these public records request, you’ll use that application number. The folks in the public records department will go over to the district’s database, pull that file, scan it, and send you an email with all the information related to that permit.
That’s great, because when you get these files from the public records department, most of the time it has the permit, a copy of the permit application, and a copy of the district’s notes when they were processing that permit application. Sometimes, it contains details related to a site walk that was done to issue that permit application. Sometimes, they’ll have contact reports and faxes and copies of emails, and it’s a very, very good data set to have, if you really start with nothing.
If you’re new to a facility and you’re trying to figure things out, It’s important to know what was communicated to the AQMD when this piece of equipment was permitted, or when the permit application was prepared, so if you can’t find these records on the server, then go ahead and request these records from the public records department of the AQMD. It can be a major time saver.
[15:16] Second Tip to Prevent Rule 203 Issues When Changing a Process
The second tip to prevent rule 203 issues when changing a process is to be sure that the folks operating the process and/or piece of equipment check with you, the environmental folks, before changing the process. It could be operations, maintenance, or any department. This is important for two reasons.
Number one: When it comes to operations or maintenance, their thinking may not be the same as the environmental folks. That’s not their fault, they have a different job. They have to make product, make widgets, or make the product that the company is selling. This can become very complex when you start to integrate principles of lean, six sigma, and process optimization. Environmental regulations may not be their top concern. That’s why you’re there. You need to advise them and guide them as it relates to permitted equipment. Some of these people may not even know about Rule 203. They may not know about this relationship. They may not even know what’s communicated in the permit application, and like I said, that’s because that’s not their job. Their job is to operate the pieces of equipment, so you want to be sure that these folks know to check with you if they want to modify the process. Be sure that they invite you to the meetings so that you can advise them on Rule 203. During these meetings you should know exactly what was communicated to the district about this piece of equipment either from public records request, emails, letters, phone calls, or other records.
Number two: operations or maintenance may not even know what’s in the permit application. Typically what we’ve experienced in the past is that when you do a process change, then you go through a management of change process. Within an a management of change (MOC) process, the environmental impact related to any process change is examined. This process depends on how your MOC program is setup. You could ask: Is this process change going to cause more waste? Is it going to use more water? What kind of emissions are going to come out of it? The most important question to ask is: will this change require permitting? Permitting will be required when what you told the district changes.
[20:17] Third Tip to Prevent Rule 203 Issues When Changing a Process
Then lastly, as an environmental compliance professional, you not only need to know environmental regulations but you also need to know the process and how the process works. Like I said in tip number two, the operations folks are familiar with the process. They may not be as familiar with environmental regulations, so I have to argue that, as an environmental compliance professional, your job is a little bit more complicated because you not only have to know the regulations but you also need to know how the process works. You have to be a process engineer in addition to an environmental compliance professional. To me, that’s one of the reasons why I like doing what I do. We also get to learn about the process and put on our process engineer hat.
You need to understand the relationship between the process and the environmental impact. That is going to take a little bit of work because it’s going to require you to look at some of the materials used within that process, and you’re going to have to ask yourself: How does this material impact the environment? What kind of emissions does it create? What do the regulations say about this?
You want to know how process changes relate to emissions. In this case, we’re talking about air permits. If I raise the temperature here, will the vapor pressure go up, downstream? Will that increase in vapor pressure cause a change in emissions? At the end, you’re going to have to understand that. Every process is different and every process is complex in and of itself, and so you’re going to have to really think critically about how things relate.
If we change the concentrations of materials used within the process, that could result in an increase of emissions. Sometimes, the processing time can increase emissions. A lot of this to someone who is new to a facility may be really difficult to understand, but as we’ve seen, the environmental department cuts across departments.
You could be talking to the operations manager, and he or she may say, “Well, we’re thinking of changing the temperature on line 43 to improve product quality, and we’re going to go from 20 to 50 and use more of this material, which has a higher vapor pressure.” As an environmental professional, you need to be processing all that information and then ask questions about how that change relates to the environmental impact. In this case, the air emissions.
If you’re just talking to a process engineer over a cup of coffee, then he or she may say something in passing like, “I just went to this meeting, and we’ve got to improve product quality, so we’re kicking around this idea of changing the concentration of material from 90 to 99%, and it’s going to do X, Y and Z.” As an environmental professional, you need to be aware of how the process and the environment impacts relate, so that when you’re involved with these conversations, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a formal meeting room, you should make a note to yourself that: “Well, I talked to John, and he said that they’re thinking of increasing the temperature. Well, I know from the files I requested from the AQMD that the process temperature was is 50, so if they operate at 70, then that’s going to need a process change.”
When you’re able to think like that, then you’re on a much better path than someone who isn’t aware of the relationship of what you tell the district how the district enforces what you told them through Rule 203. They may not be aware of that, but because you’re watching this video, you’re aware of it now.
In summary, the point that we want to make is that any time you have a permit, it’s important to know what was communicated to the district related to that permit. Then you want to know if there was a process change that’s lined up or that’s talked about, and how that process change will impact the information previously communicated to the district.
Sometimes, you may need to file a permit modification for a process change, and the project manager leading the project needs to know about this modification. More specifically, they need to know the timeline associated with these process changes and then getting the permit. Like I said, the best thing you can do is request files from the AQMD, if you can’t find them.
We hope you enjoyed this video. We’ll see you in the next one. Take care.
Let’s Take This Over To You
Before we end, I have three things for you:
First, do you know of a colleague who is in the middle of improving their process? If so, please share this E@TB video with them so that they don’t run into problems with their air permit.
Second, if you enjoyed this video, sign up for the Envera Consulting newsletter so that you won’t miss the next video. No SPAM, just content that guides you through all of the SCAQMD’s air quality rules and regulations that your business needs to know in order to comply.
Third, improving your process without running into problems with the AQMD is one of the ways that you can benefit from our services. Contact us and we’ll help you out.
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