Now and again, a project crops up that requires a facility to go through the public notification process. When and how this process needs to happen is defined in AQMD Rule 212.
A public notification for permitting is a written notification that alerts a specific community that the SCAQMD plans to issue a permit to your facility. The notification includes a description of the project and a summary of its impacts to local air quality. Here’s an example of what a notification might look like.
While the text of the notification is prepared by the SCAQMD, you are responsible for the actual distribution process — as well as providing the SCAQMD proof that the notification was sent out. (More on this below.)
Once the notification is distributed to the required recipients, the public has thirty days to submit comments to the SCAQMD. If comments are received during this period, you’ll need to work with the SCAQMD to resolve any issues before the agency can issue your permit.
When Does Rule 212 Require Public Notification?
Under Rule 212, public notification for permitting is required in three cases, the first being the most common. These cases occur when there is:
- An increased health risk due to emissions of a facility within 1,000 feet of the outer boundary of a school
- A health-risk determination at a location that exceeds certain thresholds
- A “significant” emission increase at a facility that is not near a school
The difference between points two and three above is a philosophical matter for another time. I just wanted to make you aware of how Rule 212 defines the three different cases.
The first example requires distribution of the public notice to each address within a radius of 1,000 feet from your facility’s outer property line and to each parent or legal guardian of a child in any school within a quarter mile of the facility boundary.
The second and third examples require notification to all addresses within 1,000 feet of the facility boundary.
Because examples two and three are not very common, we’ll focus the remainder of the information on the first example.
(Important! The three cases listed above are related only to Rule 212 notifications. There are other types of notifications required under other rules/programs, such as Title V (Regulation XXX).)
Public Notice vs. Hearing
When facility managers hear about the pubic notification requirements, they often have a lot of questions about the process — particularly because many confuse the public notification process with a public hearing, which is a completely different beast.
A public notification must occur before a public hearing can even happen. Although a notification can lead to a hearing, that doesn’t happen very often (in most communities). A public hearing is typically requested by the community to address concerns about the project and/or the draft permit. This usually happens only if there are concerns that the permit will ensure compliance.
Tips for a Successful Public Notification
When it comes to a public notification, there are three main factors that can lead to a successful campaign.
1. Ensuring your permit application is complete
If you’ve followed our newsletter or read the material in our content library, you’ve already heard this advice many times before. However, when it comes to public notifications, it’s more important than ever that your permit application is complete and accurate.
During a public notification, the SCAQMD may be required to stick its neck out to defend your project. Since compliance with all regulations is what the public is concerned about, the SCAQMD may be required to support how it decided to approve your project — so it behooves you to provide as much information as possible. Help them, and they’ll help you out in return.
2. Retaining a direct-mail company
Direct mail companies are usually hired to send out marketing materials during a mail campaign. These companies can also be of value in Rule 212 situations.
First, they can help you obtain all the addresses (those within 1,000 feet of your facility) necessary to fulfill the Rule 212 requirements. All you have to do is give them your facility’s address. You can usually also hire them to complete the entire mailing process, from addressing the envelopes and purchasing postage to dropping the envelopes in the mail. The notification letter itself is drafted by the SCAQMD in both English and Spanish and is provided by your permit engineer.
To get the addresses for the parents and legal gardens of children near the school, the facility usually needs to initiate the process of contacting the school, due to the sensitive nature of the information. Although this process is usually a bit more complicated than the first process mentioned, hiring a direct-mail company is usually still the more efficient route than doing it yourself.
Once the notifications go out, the direct-mail company provides proof of the distribution, which you’ll need to complete the permitting process with the SCAQMD. If you decide to do this process yourself, you’ll need to get a receipt from the post office that shows you sent bulk mail. However, keep in mind that the receipt may not contain all the info the SCAQMD requires — which is another benefit of hiring a third party.
3. Allowing for future emissions and operating schedule/parameters due to growth
Compliance with Rule 212 is needed each time a permit application is processed, so depending on your operation, the public-notification process may not be a one-time occurrence. You can, however, minimize the need for future notifications by making sure your permit application contains projections for future growth — such as longer operating schedules, higher production rates, or anything that might trigger an increase in emissions. By doing so, you might avoid the need to go through another public notification should you need to modify your existing permit somewhere down the road. This is particularly helpful for facilities that, for example, don’t plan on moving location any time soon but do anticipate a certain amount of growth.
I’ve Submitted My Public Notification. Now What?
Once you’ve mailed the notification and provided the SCAQMD with proof of mailing, you’ll need to wait thirty days to see if anyone submits a comment. If any comments come in, you’ll need to work with the SCAQMD to resolve any issues or address concerns. The SCAQMD cannot issue the permit until all comments have been addressed.
Once the submission period is closed and any comments addressed (if any are received), the SCAQMD can issue your permit. You can use the AQMD’s search tool to determine the exact dates your 30-day comment window starts and ends.
Remember that if you end up permitting another piece of equipment or modify your process in any way that results in an emission increase, then you’ll need to go through the entire public notification process again. So be as thorough as you can the first time around!
Envera Consulting has helped numerous companies with their notification processes. Contact us if you need help with a Rule 212 public notification or even finding a direct mail company.