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Streamlining the Air Permitting Process on Construction Projects

Streamlining the Air Permitting Process on Construction Projects, Sameer Shah

The process for obtaining a construction air permit is different in each state and region. If there’s one thing that is nearly universal, it’s that you can’t start building an industrial project without reviewing the applicability of one.

That is why it’s so important to understand all of your air permitting and compliance requirements early — even before your project budget or schedule is developed.

Among the factors to consider:

Local regulations can vary widely. Air quality challenges are vastly greater in a city like Los Angeles than in California’s rural Mariposa County, 300 miles to the north. The Environmental Protection Agency understands this and asks states and regions to set their own agenda for meeting Clean Air Act objectives. California alone has 35 local air pollution control districts, each with its own emission standards, rules and air quality management plans. Many state and local agencies have tiers of regulations that focus on minimizing air quality pollution impacts. It’s important to determine precisely which rules will impact your project and what they require.

The more due diligence, the more efficient the permitting process. Your project probably isn’t the first to be affected by local clean air rules. It’s wise to invest time in learning whether other, similar operations have received permits in recent years and, if so, to investigate the challenges their owners faced, the processes they went through and the hoops they jumped through. Many environmental agencies make it easy by posting construction project documents online. The time you spend will be well worth it.

It helps to read between the lines. Knowing local emission limits and other rules is one thing. Understanding how these limits and rules were developed is quite another. By reviewing public records of district policy statements and internal memoranda, you can gain valuable insight into what a rule was designed to achieve and how its conclusions were reached. That, in turn, might help you better understand permitting criteria and the drivers behind a given policy.

For example, consider a permit policy that requires monitoring emissions daily — and your facility does not operate continuously. This could be an onerous condition to meet. If you discuss your plans with the regulatory agency, you might be able to persuade the permitting authority to accept “monitoring emissions once every full operational day.” That both meets the regulatory objective and gives the facility owner greater flexibility.

Plan appropriately, in other words, and you will obtain a permit that benefits your operations, rather than simply complying with a set of rules.

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Sameer Shah
Written by Sameer Shah
Sameer Shah is an environmental project manager for Burns & McDonnell in California. He has more than a decade of experience in environmental engineering, air quality permitting and compliance, remediation, and process optimization.

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