Now that we’ve covered the history and basics of the EPA’s Title V program, we’re going to dive a little deeper by covering:
- the five criteria for inclusion in the program
- major source thresholds
- attainment status
For those unfamiliar with the term, “air shed” refers to the air above a certain geographical area. The air within the air shed is managed by a specific regulatory agency, which enforces its own rules for preserving air quality.
For example, the air shed that is managed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) sits above the geographical area called the South Coast Air Basin. In California, there is a total of 15 air sheds, each managed by one or more of the state’s 25 air quality districts. The concept of an air shed is important when understanding how the ambient levels of air pollution drive the stringency of the air regulations within a given area — and why Southern California has some of the nation’s most stringent air quality regulations for industrial sources.
A facility can become subject to the Title V Program in any of five ways:
- By being a “major source” of air emissions
- By being subject to the National Acid Rain Program (which applies to most facilities that generate electricity)
- By being subject to the Clean Air Act’s solid waste incineration requirements (which applies to facilities that incinerate municipal solid wastes; hospital, medical and/or infectious waste; commercial and/or industrial solid waste; or sewage)
- By being subject to New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that specifically require a Title V permit
- By being subject to a National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulation that specifically requires a Title V permit
By far the most common way to get pulled into the Title V program is the first point above. A facility is deemed a “major source” if its actual or potential emissions are greater than certain thresholds. Actual emissions are calculated using data collected via material throughputs, unit source tests, a facility’s specific emission factors, etc., and are usually done when preparing an annual emissions report (AER) for a regulatory agency.
Potential emissions, on the other hand, are defined as the amount of emissions created when the facility is operating at maximum capacity. More often than not, a facility’s potential emissions are quite higher than its actual emissions.
Major Source Thresholds
If your facility is deemed a major source, it will be subject to certain emission limits, known as “major source thresholds,” which are determined either by potential or actual emissions. The definition of actual emissions is straightforward, while potential emissions refers to the emissions if the equipment were working at maximum capacity. In almost all cases, the major source threshold for actual emissions is lower than that for potential emissions.
In the SCAQMD, if your facility emits eight tons of actual emissions or has a potential to emit 10 tons, it would be deemed a major source.
Major source thresholds differ in air districts across the country, and even within California. Title I of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act established what’s known as National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which are the levels of certain pollutants in the ambient air that are considered to be safe for human health and the environment. An air shed’s major source thresholds are directly tied to whether or not the ambient air meets the NAAQS. Almost all regulatory agencies monitor the ambient air over their air sheds to report their NAAQS compliance. In return, the federal government can impose sanctions on agencies that are not improving in their compliance.
Attainment vs. Non-Attainment
If the concentration of an air pollutant in a given area is above the NAAQS, then the pollutant is considered to be in “non-attainment” for that given area — in other words, the concentration of that pollutant in the ambient air does not meet the NAAQS. When a pollutant’s concentration is below the standard, it’s said to be “in attainment.”
Currently, the NAAQS for ozone is 75 parts per billion average over an eight-hour period. (For reference, one part per billion is equal to one drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool.) In 2013, the South Coast Air Basin had an average ozone concentration of 90 parts per billion. Yes, you read that correctly: It was 12,000 times the standard. Although the area was in non-attainment for ozone, it was in attainment for carbon monoxide and other pollutants.
(Fun fact: Facilities don’t create ozone — at least not directly. Rather than being emitted, ozone is formed by a reaction between oxides and nitrogen, organic compounds, and sunlight. So when managing ozone in the given area, regulators manage or control the emissions of the precursors of ozone.)
Non-attainment areas are given lower major source thresholds — i.e., they have more stringent air quality regulations — than areas that are in attainment because their air agencies want to reduce the ambient levels of a given pollutant. And because an air shed’s attainment status has a direct impact on the major source thresholds that area facilities must comply with, it will take fewer emissions to become subject to Title V in a non-attainment area than one that is in attainment.
Still with me?
To get a better idea, check out this chart from the 2016 SCAQMD Air Quality Management Plan, which presents the attainment status for all the different pollutants in the South Coast Air Basin. Notice how the South Coast Air Basin is, to put it mildly, in non-attainment for ozone. (You can see this in the columns that note the number of days that the NAAQS was exceeded.) The basin overall has an overall concentration of .121 PPM, which is well above the federal limit of .075, meaning it is in extreme non-attainment for ozone.
This is important, so let’s break this down. Being in extreme non-attainment for ozone means that the ambient concentrations of ozone exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The ambient level is so far above the standard that it has the highest designation of non-attainment possible: extreme. The designations for non-attainment, from lowest to highest, are marginal, moderate, serious, and extreme. The difference between the marginal and extreme designations is about .099 parts per million.
For a long time, Southern California was the only air shed in the country to have a designation of extreme non-attainment. (Recently, the San Joaquin Valley became the second region to enjoy this dubious distinction.) Applying what we have learned about major source thresholds, it should come as no surprise that Southern California also has the lowest major source thresholds for nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Tables 1 and 2 (at the bottom of this article) from Rule 3001, which comes from the SCAQMD rule covering Title V applicability, presents the numerical values of the major source thresholds for Southern California, with thresholds for actual emissions in Table 1 and potential to emit in Table 2. Your facility would be subject to Title V if your potential to emit exceeds 10 tons per year of VOCs and NOx. But if the same facility were located up north in the Bay Area, those same thresholds are increased to 100 tons per year, because the Bay Area’s attainment status is different than that of the South Coast. You can view the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s rules on this matter here. The most pertinent info can be found in section 2-6-212.
Still have questions about Title V applicability? Post your questions in the comments.