Ben Franklin is famous for having said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” When it comes to air quality compliance, you can add one more item to that list: annual emission reports (AER).
The AER program has a number of similarities to taxes:
Taxes: You report how much money you made in a given year to an agency.
AER: You report how many air emissions you produced in a given year to an agency.
Taxes: You pay money to an agency based on the amount of income you earned in a given year.
AER: You pay money to an agency based on the amount of air pollutants you produced in a given year.
Taxes: You may be audited based on the information you submit.
AER: You may be audited based on the information you submit.
Taxes: Income tax forms are due every year.
AER: Emissions reports are due every year.
Taxes: There are penalties for late or non-submission of a tax report.
AER: There are penalties for late or non-submission of an AER.
Anyone who’s gone through the AER process can also attest to the fact that it’s just as painful and frustrating as filing taxes — if you don’t have the proper knowledge or guidance.
For those unfamiliar with the process, we’ve created a handy-dandy cheat sheet to help you prepare to submit your AER.
Part I introduces you to the AER program while highlighting important details such as deadlines and associated fees.
Part II contains a short walk-through of the submission process and provides useful strategies to help you prepare your own AER.
Let’s get into it.
Part I: What Is an AER?
Simply put, an AER is an inventory of the types and amounts of emissions produced by your facility in the past year.
The AER program requires certain facilities to:
- Report their criteria and toxic air emissions from both permitted and non-permitted sources for the past year.
- Pay a fee for the pollutants they emitted above a given threshold. (See the AQMD’s info on filing AERs for the most recent info, which can be found in Rule 301, Table III.)
What Is the Deadline to File an AER?
To avoid late surcharges, Rule 301 requires that an AER and its associated fees be filed within sixty days after January 1 of each year.
The actual submission date tends to change each year, depending on whether the sixtieth day falls on a weekend or a Monday, when the AQMD is closed. So, just to be certain, it’s best to check the AQMD’s website each year to know exactly when your AER is due.
For the 2016 reporting year, the deadline is March 2, 2017 at 5 PM PT.
Not All Emissions Need to Be Reported in the AER
While the AER program requires emissions to be reported from both permitted and un-permitted sources, certain emission sources are exempt from this report, including:
- On- and off-road motor vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, forklifts, construction equipment, which are regulated via other programs)
- State-registered portable equipment (such equipment is instead covered in the Portable Equipment Registration Program)
- Architectural coatings (e.g., materials subject to Rule 1113)
- Utility equipment (e.g., landscaping equipment)
- Clean air solvents
- Non-combustion char-broilers and deep-fat fryers operated by restaurants and/or establishments servicing consumers
The required fees on the reported emissions are proportional to the amount of emissions reported. For the 2014 reporting year, the fees are:
It is important to note that, although the pollutant thresholds set in Rule 301 seldom change, the associated fees change each July 1, when Rule 301 is updated.
Who Needs to File an AER?
Facilities are required to file an AER if they meet one of the following conditions:
- Facility emissions exceed the reporting thresholds for criteria pollutants, which are:
>= 4 tons/year (TPY) of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (SOx), particulate matter (PM)
>= 100 TPY carbon monoxide (CO)
- The facility is subject to the AB 2588 Air Toxics “Hot Spots” Program.
- The facility receives a notification to file an AER from the AQMD (even if the facility’s emissions are below the reporting thresholds or no fees are due).
Why Is an AER Needed?
Aside from the simple reason that AERs are required by Rule 301, there are four other reasons why the AER is necessary:
1. The capture of annual emissions from industrial sources serves as a critical component in assessing progress towards attainment of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) within the AQMD.
2. The AQMD uses the data acquired by the AER program to assess its air-quality control efforts and plan new control strategies accordingly.
3. The AQMD uses the AER to assess applicability of a facility to the Title V and/or RECLAIM programs, both of which play major roles in the AQMD’s air-quality control efforts.
4. The fees collected from the AER program fund AQMD’s air-quality regulatory efforts, in addition to being a source of revenue for the district.
Where Do I Submit My AER To?
AERs are submitted to the AQMD both electronically and as a hard copy. Electronic submissions are done directly within the online AER reporting tool. Hard-copy submissions are mailed to one of two addresses, depending on how you are submitting the hard copy.
If using U.S. mail, send the AER to the address below:
South Coast Air Quality Management District
2014 Annual Emission Reporting Program
File No. 54493
Los Angeles, CA 90074-4493
If delivering your AER in person or via courier, use the following address:
South Coast Air Quality Management District
ATTN: Finance Cashier
Annual Emission Reporting Program
21865 Copley Drive
Diamond Bar, CA 91765-4178
In either case, we advise that you obtain a tracking number when you submit a hard-copy AER, so that you have confirmation not only that it was submitted but that it was submitted on time.
The following is a list of delivery methods that provide tracking:
- U.S. Registered Mail
- U.S. Certified Mail
- Private courier
- UPS/FedEx, etc.
Part II: How to File an AER
Filing an AER is done using a six-step process, which I’ll describe in brief.
1. Facility Registration
Register your facility with the AQMD’s new reporting software. If you haven’t submitted an AER in the last few years, you may have to register again, as the AQMD rolled out a new reporting tool for the reporting year 2014.
Upon registering, you will be given a personal identification number (PIN) that will be used every time you log into the reporting system. Make sure you keep the PIN and password in a safe place.
2. Complete Facility Information
Since the AQMD implemented its new reporting tool in 2014, those using this system for the first time will need to fill in their facility information, which includes:
- Facility address
- Main point of contact for the report
- Contact information for the preparer of the report
- Operating schedule for the facility
3. Build the Facility’s Reporting Structure
This is a new process required by the upgraded system. Building your reporting structure includes, but is not limited to, entering all of the fuel types used in your facility, all equipment in the facility that you will be reporting emissions from, and a description of each equipment piece (optional).
Probably the biggest difference between the new and old reporting tools is that the new one attempts to be helpful by pre-populating equipment for each facility into the reporting tool. However, this can lead to questions about what equipment is actually present in your facility versus what the AQMD thinks is present in your facility.
For example, there may be cases where equipment is listed within the reporting tool, but the equipment is not at the facility. On the other hand, there may be cases where equipment needs to be added to the reporting tool (e.g., Rule 219-exempt and un-permitted equipment).
Here are a few tips that can help when setting up your reporting structure:
- Have a list of all combustion fuels used in the facility (e.g., natural gas, diesel, refinery gas).
- Have a list of all emission sources (devices) used in the facility (e.g., two boilers, one heater, two loading racks, four storage tanks).
- Create a brief description of each device used in the facility (e.g., 35 MMBTU/hr humidification room boiler).
- Know the emission status of the device used in the facility (e.g., boiler 1 operated during 2014, boiler 4 did not operate during 2014, etc.).
- Know the type of emission source group for each device used in the facility (e.g., internal combustion, external combustion, organics, storage tanks).
In addition, look closely to see what information the reporting tool has already pre-populated for your facility. There may be cases where the reporting tool is now asking for emission estimates from “new” devices that you did not report emissions from in the past. Make sure these devices are actually present in your facility.
4. Calculate Emissions From Your Facility
Using the reporting structure that you built in step 3, enter the data that is used to calculate emissions from your facility. In most cases, this step involves transcribing data from a spreadsheet into the AER reporting tool.
The emissions data can include:
- Material throughputs
- Fuel throughputs
- Non-default emission factors
- Control efficiencies
We highly recommend that you actually calculate the emissions from your facility in a spreadsheet prior to using the reporting tool. This allows you to retain a copy of the emissions data separate from what you entered — just in case. In your spreadsheet, include all assumptions as well as all supporting data for the values used within the report.
5. Review Emission Summaries, Applicable Fees & Possible Errors
Once you have calculated your emissions data within the reporting too, the real fun starts.
The new reporting tool has a function to review all of the data that you’ve entered. This function ensures that the report is free of any errors that would prevent the report from being successfully submitted. If everything has been entered correctly, you should have no errors.
However, if there are errors, you will need to resolve them before you submit your AER. For some, this is easier said than done. If your facility is large and reporting is somewhat complex, you could have numerous errors that will need to be resolved one by one.
You will be asked to review the totals of both criteria and hazardous air pollutants as calculated by the reporting tool to ensure they match the emissions that you calculated within your spreadsheet. If the emission totals don’t match, you’ve got some work to do.
6. Submit the AER
In this last step, you’ll submit your report electronically, along with a hard copy with signatures and payment for all fees due.
The hard copy submission includes the following forms:
- A signed signature sheet (Don’t forget to sign it!)
- Facility status update (if applicable)
- Fees due summary
- Toxic air contaminants summary
- Copy of submission confirmation email (This is automatically sent to you via email after you submit within the AER reporting tool.)
- Check payable to the AQMD for fees due (if any)
All of these forms can be printed from within the AER reporting tool.
My AER Has Been Submitted. Now What?
Once you submit your AER, you may not be completely off the hook.
We’ve seen cases of the AQMD conducting audits on previously submitted AERs. If this ever happens, you want to be sure that you are looking at the same forms, calculations, and assumptions that the AQMD is reviewing, and the best way to ensure this is to save all of your records (emission calculations, forms, supporting documentation) for a minimum of five years.
File these records someplace safe where you won’t forget about them. If you do happen to get audited, having these records could help save a lot of headache.
Who Else Wants Help With Their AQMD AER?
We’ve prepared AERs for numerous facilities within the AQMD. Let Envera Consulting help you complete your annual emission report.
Contact us and we’ll be in touch within 48 hours.
Bryant Vu is a contributor at Envera Consulting. He has a BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of California, Irvine.