The TCEQ permitting process is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. Its compliance and enforcement programs have received high marks from the EPA. And the agency’s mobile source emission programs offer innovative emissions-reduction solutions.
Following is information about some of the TCEQ programs designed to improve air quality in Texas:
A Robust Air Permitting Program
Flexible Air Permits
One type of air permit that has contributed to significant reductions in emissions across the state since its inception in 1994 is the flexible permit. This voluntary type of permit allows an operator flexibility in managing operations by staying under an overall emissions cap or individual emission limitation. Flexible permits have been especially valuable in achieving reductions in emissions at previously grandfathered facilities.
Two examples of emission reductions that are attributable to flexible permits, based on air monitoring data, are in coal-fired power plants and in petroleum refineries.
The TCEQ requires permits for nearly all stationary sources emitting air contaminants into the atmosphere. All air contaminants that are being emitted by a facility, and not just the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) criteria pollutants, are reviewed by agency staff.
Air permits have been required for new and modified facilities in Texas since the early 1970s, which in some cases predates federal air quality permitting rules. Facilities must demonstrate that their controls meet best available control technology and that emissions will not impair public health or welfare.
Planned Maintenance, Startup, and Shutdown
Emissions can occur anytime during facility maintenance, startup, or shutdown. Emissions that occur during these activities have previously not been accounted for in facility permits.
The TCEQ Air Permits Division staff has begun reviewing permit applications for the authorization of planned Maintenance, Startup, and Shutdown (MSS) activities at petroleum refineries and chemical plants, which are the first types of facilities to undergo this review. Next to undergo review will be carbon black facilities, electric generating facilities, and various oil and gas facilities. These permits will result in emission reductions from planned MSS activities.
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Compliance and Enforcement Program Receives High Marks from the EPA
The TCEQ is responsible for enforcing state environmental laws. In order to ensure that enforcement actions are consistent, just, and timely, the TCEQ created the Enforcement Initiation Criteria (EIC), a set of guidelines used by TCEQ inspectors across the state.
When environmental laws are violated, the agency has the authority to levy penalties. To hinder entities from benefiting financially through non-compliance, the TCEQ enhances penalties by evaluating and assessing the economic benefit (EB) gained through non-compliance.
Agency efforts have received high marks from the EPA, through its State Review Framework process, which reviews the state’s compliance and enforcement performance relative to the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System programs. The TCEQ’s program review undertaken by the EPA in 2007 indicated that the agency was meeting or exceeding all of its compliance and enforcement commitments.
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Mobile Source Programs Help Reduce Emissions
Exhaust from cars and trucks is a major contributor to impaired air quality in many urban areas. Since mobile source emission standards are set by the federal government, states are federally preempted from directly regulating this emissions category.
The Texas Legislature, however, has invested more than $1 billion in programs that have resulted in significant reductions in mobile source emissions.
- The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP)
The Texas Legislature established the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) in 2001 to reduce emissions from heavy-duty on-road vehicles and nonroad equipment. Providing grants for voluntary upgrades, the program is targeted at areas of the state designated as nonattainment for ground-level ozone under the federal Clean Air Act. Projects are funded also in other areas of the state with air quality issues.
As of November 2009, the program had awarded $780 million for the upgrade or replacement of over 12,273 heavy-duty vehicles, locomotives, marine vessels, and pieces of equipment. Over the life of these projects, 158,612 tons of NOx will be reduced, which equals to 70.7 tons per day in 2010.
The success of the program in Texas has encouraged other states, as well as the federal government, to implement voluntary incentive programs targeted at mobile sources, modeling their programs after the TERP.
Learn more about the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.
- Drive a Clean Machine
The Drive a Clean Machine program was created in 2007 as a way to remove older, polluting vehicles from Texas roads and replace them with newer, cleaner-running vehicles—which can be up to 98 percent cleaner than vehicles produced a decade ago. From the program’s debut through November 2009, $96.4 million have been provided to qualifying vehicle owners in the Dallas–Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, and Central Texas areas to replace a total of 30,390 vehicles and to repair 10,077 vehicles. Learn more about Drive a Clean Machine.
- Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program
The Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program identifies high-emitting vehicles in need of repair in 17 Texas counties, and requires them to be fixed before the state can issue a vehicle safety certificate. Each year, approximately 8 million vehicles are tested in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Dallas–Fort Worth, Central Texas, and El Paso areas.
- Texas Clean School Bus Program
Air pollution from diesel vehicles has health implications for everyone, but children may be more susceptible to this pollution because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults do. Fine particulate matter from diesel exhaust can easily pass through the nose and throat, penetrate deep into the lungs, and pose serious health risks.
The Texas Clean School Bus Program was created to improve the health of school children and bus drivers by reducing emissions of diesel exhaust from school buses. The program provides grants for eligible projects that reduce particulate matter emissions inside the cabin of a bus. Reductions per school bus range from 20 to 90 percent, depending on the installed technology. The program also educates school district personnel and school bus providers about the potential health impacts of diesel bus idling.
Learn more about the Texas Clean School Bus Program.
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Supplemental Environmental Projects
Putting Fines to Work Close to Home
When the TCEQ finds a violation of environmental laws, the agency and the regulated entity often enter into an administrative order, which usually includes the assessment of a monetary penalty. Penalties collected are deposited into the state’s general revenue fund.
An option under state law, however, gives violators a chance to direct some of the penalty dollars to local improvement projects. By negotiating an agreement to perform or support a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) in return for an offset of the administrative penalty, the violator can do something beneficial for the community in which the environmental offense occurred.
Regulated entities may draw up their own SEP or choose from a list of pre-approved SEPs, which consists of projects that have already received general approval from the commission. The list includes sponsoring such activities as cleaning up illegal dumpsites, providing first-time adequate water or sewer service for low-income families, removing hazards from bays and beaches, and improving nesting conditions for colonial water birds.
Learn more about SEPs.
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