FEW: Impact of EPA's 250-ton rule

By Rona Johnson | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 17, 2008 at 9:31 p.m. CST

The impact of environmental regulations on the ethanol industry was the topic of one session at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo on June 17 in Nashville.

"Environmental regulations are just one segment of a long list of compliance issues that the industry must stay on top of," said Stephanie Regagnon, director of commercialization for the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center and moderator of the environmental regulations session. "In today's world where the industry is constantly under attack in the media—in terms of food versus fuel—it is critical that we stay informed of our environmental responsibilities."

Jessica Karras-Bailey, senior environmental scientist for RTP Environmental Associates Inc., said the scrutiny that ethanol is facing in the public and in the media, combined with the growing number of plants, could increase the chance of an agency inspection. She gave producers a few tips to make the air quality inspection process easier. "You need to know what to expect, be proactive, maintain your records, correct deficiencies and—I think something that's very important and sometimes lacking—develop an employee understanding not just in management but all the way down to shift supervisors—anybody who's working at the facility," she said.

Howard Gebhart, manager of environmental compliance at Air Resource Specialists Inc., addressed the impact of the U.S. EPA's decision to raise the emissions limit for a newly constructed ethanol plant from 100 tons per year to 250 tons per year, before the plant needs to install federal emissions controls. "The 250-ton rule is basically what the major emissions source threshold is for a new source construction permit under the EPA rules," Gebhart said. "So under the federal [Prevention of Significant Deterioration/New Source Review] rules, if you belong to one of 28 listed source categories in that rule, you have a 100-ton per year [emissions] threshold for determining whether or not your facility is or isn't a major source. If you are not one of those listed source categories, the threshold for major source is 250 tons."

Gebhart explained that ethanol plants were originally covered in the chemical processing plant category, but the EPA changed the definition of what a chemical processing plant is and specifically excluded ethanol production by natural fermentation. "That moved ethanol production out of the listed source categories where the 100-ton rule applied and moved it into the 250-ton category," he said. Also, fugitive emissions such as leaking pipes would no longer count toward the applicability of a major source. Although it's important for ethanol producers to know about the rule change, it's also critical that they understand what the new rule didn't change. "If you were worried about being a major source based on emissions of hazardous air pollutants, the threshold has not changed for hazardous air pollutants," he said. Also, for plants in or near nonattainment areas, the 100-ton threshold may still apply. "So if you are in or near these nonattainment areas, the 250-ton rule has basically done nothing for you, Gebhart said.

Brian Wanzenried, senior associate for Terracon, and Todd Potas, principal with Natural Resources Group Inc., rounded out the environmental regulations panel. Wanzenried discussed new issues, common problems and misinterpretations of environmental and chemical regulatory compliance, and Potas talked about environmental issues concerning biomass gasification.