How a Regulator Might View Clean In Place

By Todd Palmer and Anna Wildeman | February 14, 2013

The clean in place (CIP) process is something every ethanol producer knows well—when it is scheduled, how long it will take, how much wash water generated, etc. There is one additional issue producers must pay attention to: what air emissions are generated by the CIP process and how, if at all, are those emissions authorized by existing regulations or permits? The U.S. EPA is increasingly paying attention to these issues and so should you.

In 2012, EPA issued Clean Air Act Section 114 Information Requests to several ethanol producers asking for documentation and air emissions data concerning typical CIP activities. Section 114 of the Clean Air Act provides EPA broad authority to request information from any person who owns or operates an emission source, who manufactures emission control or process equipment, or any other person the agency believes can assist in achieving its regulatory or enforcement objectives. In issuing a Section 114 Information Request, EPA may be trying to develop a regulatory scheme for an industry, develop an enforcement action against a particular company for violations of the Clean Air Act, or simply develop a better understanding of how an industry handles some operational or technical issue. In the context of CIP emissions, EPA likely issued the 2012 Section 114 Information Requests to better understand the CIP process, the quantity and nature of emissions that are generated from CIP, and how well producers manage those emissions. It is possible that EPA or a state agency will use this information to develop specific emission limitations or work practice standards for CIP activities. This information could also launch an industry-wide enforcement initiative, however. 

Historically, air emissions from the CIP process have not been uniformly or explicitly accounted for in air permits. This is likely due, in part, to the difficulty in quantifying these emissions, in particular the practical difficulty of how and when to measure emissions during the CIP process. Producers and regulators may have also considered these emissions to be de minimis and therefore of little regulatory consequence. Be that as it may, ethanol producers should take note of regulators’ recent interest in these emissions and address them as appropriate. 

For example, producers need to review all applicable air permits prior to undertaking CIP activities to ensure that all permit requirements are being met and that the facility’s permits authorize the planned activities. This includes meeting applicable state regulations and permit obligations, if any, for reporting to regulators the undertaking of CIP activities, the bypassing of a pollution control device and the emissions generated during the process.

If CIP-related emissions are routed to a pollution control device, be sure that your air permit authorizes such a configuration. A permit term requiring that fermentation-related emissions be routed to a pollution control device “at all times” could be interpreted as precluding a bypass during the CIP process. For these types of permit limitations, it is important to closely review what the permit means by “fermentation” and whether fermentation—as defined by the permit—is actually occurring during the CIP process. 

If a producer emits CIP emissions to the atmosphere but its air permit doesn’t explicitly address emissions generated during the CIP process, a producer may wish to obtain a written notice from their regulator stating that emissions from the CIP process are authorized and will not result in an administrative enforcement action. A producer should not simply assume that CIP-related emissions qualify for a regulatory exemption for startup, shutdown or malfunction events.

Author: Todd Palmer,
Attorney, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

Anna Wildeman
Attorney, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP