EPA, in response to COVID-19, grants leeway for emissions testing

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted interim forbearance on emission reporting requirements governed by the Acid Rain Program , NOX SIP Call, and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), also known as Part 75, to accommodate public health measures put in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the amendments (Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-0211), signed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler April 17, power plants “may extend the validity of previous passed quality assurance tests under the monitoring, reporting, and record keeping provisions” of the Acid Rain Program and CSAPR.

In the interim, previously passed quality assurance tests will remain valid until the power plant operator can safely and practicably complete the delayed tests.

Under the amendments, if a power plant fails to complete a required quality assurance, certification or recertification, fuel analysis, or emission rate test by the applicable deadline under the regulations because of travel, plant access, or other safety restrictions implemented to address the COVID-19 crisis and if the plant’s actual monitored data would be considered valid if not for the delayed test, the plant may temporarily continue to report actual monitored data instead of substitute data.

Plant operators must maintain documentation and notify the EPA when a test is delayed and later completed and certify to the agency that they meet the criteria for using the amended reporting procedures.

The amendments do not suspend any emissions monitoring or reporting requirements or alter any emissions standards. The EPA does not expect the amendments to cause any change in emissions levels.

The amendments take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register and apply to any quality assurance tests due after the declaration of the national COVID-19 emergency on March 13. The interim rule was published in the Federal Register on April 22.

The extensions expire the earlier of 1) when it is practicable for the power plant operator to complete delayed tests, 2) the end of the national emergency plus a 60-day grace period, or 3) 180 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

The amendments to not absolve power plant operators of the obligation to operate and maintain emission monitoring equipment, measure hourly emissions, or to report those emission data to the EPA at the end of each calendar quarter.

The amendments were promulgated in response to reports from utilities and plant operators, state air agency staff, consultants, and other stakeholders that restrictions implemented to address the COVID-19 crisis have interfered with their ability to conduct required quality assurance activities. The EPA is requesting comments on the new rule.

The amendments will have “a positive impact on public health by assisting efforts to slow the spread” of COVID-19, which provides “good cause” to issue the rule “without prior notice or opportunity for public comment” and to make it effective immediately, the rule states.

On March 26, the EPA issued guidance on the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the agency’s enforcement and compliance assurance programs. The EPA said it does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations if restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 can be shown to be the cause of noncompliance.

In contrast, the new rule applies only to data validation for purposes of determining the hourly emissions data required under Part 75.

EPA’s Clean Air Market Division will host a conference call on Thursday, April 23 at 1pm ET to discuss details and answer questions regarding the interim final rule (IFR) “Continuous Emission Monitoring; Quality-Assurance Requirements During the COVID-19 National Emergency”. Click here for details.