Changing Air Regulations, Changing Business Models

Like it or not, change is coming. New, more stringent clean air regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reshape business in a number of industries in the coming decades. Whether you’re in transportation, manufacturing or energy, taking steps now to plan for compliance is vital to avoid costly last-minute emission reduction strategies or penalties.

Many of the EPA’s recent actions focus on lowering levels of sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon dioxide. Lowering the national ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide means adjustments for combustors of fossil fuels, including power producers and industrial smelting operations. Reducing atmospheric ozone requires limiting the emissions of the pollutants that produce it — volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen. This can be challenging because these compounds can come from point and non-point sources, including cars and trucks, power plants, and paint and solvent evaporations.

Perhaps most significantly, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent (below 2005 levels) when fully implemented in 2030. If you are involved with the energy sector, there are a number of ways you can begin taking action right now to keep your business running smoothly as the CPP is implemented in coming years.

  • Get involved with your state’s process. Under the CPP, each state has the ability to develop their own emissions plan based on broad federal guidelines. If you get involved early, you may be able to guide your state’s regulations to create workable solutions, minimize disruption to your business and stay ahead of coming changes.
  • Know your options. The CPP is unique in that it allows utilities to take credit for carbon dioxide emission reductions resulting from a broad range of efforts “outside the fence-line.” Instead of only regulating emissions from a single source or stack, the CPP allows power plants to rely on off-site reduction measures for compliance, such as using renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency.
  • Act early. Some CPP compliance strategies, such as switching to less carbon-intensive fuels or building new natural gas combined-cycle units, may need to go through the air permit review process, which can take time. Delays happen. Give yourself as much time as possible by starting now.

In general, early planning can help reduce compliance costs, particularly for sources impacted by multiple air regulations. With proper planning, it may be possible to implement control strategies that lower emissions of multiple air pollutants. For instance, coal-burning utilities may be able to reduce both carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide by switching to natural gas. Combined strategies are usually less costly than using individual approaches that may need to be modified in the future, and they can help you stay ahead of expected new air permitting requirements targeting secondarily formed pollutants like ozone and fine particulate matter.

Don’t get caught unprepared. Air regulation is changing quickly, and compliance strategies may mean significant changes to your business. By educating yourself and taking action now you can protect your business while positioning yourself as an industry leader.

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