09/27/2017 - Regulatory Tracker

Power Plant Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction Rule

by EELP Staff

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Why it Matters

Power plants and other industrial sources emit more pollution as they start up, shut down, or when they malfunction than during normal operations. These periods of higher pollution have negative effects on air quality and human health. EPA regulates this excess pollution through State Implementation Plans under the Clean Air Act. During the Obama administration, EPA issued new guidance on excess startup, shutdown, and malfunction emissions and found that 36 states would need to revise their State Implementation Plans as a result. In October 2020, the Trump administration revised the guidance, rolling back the Obama administration’s changes to allow for exemption and affirmative defense provisions in SIPs under certain circumstances.

Current Status

When President Biden took office on Jan. 20, 2021 he signed Executive Order 13990 that directed all agencies to review and consider revising rules issued and other agency actions taken during the Trump administration. The 2020 guidance memorandum was included in the White House’s “List of Agency Actions for Review.”

Environmental organizations filed a petition of reconsideration and rulemaking with EPA on April 12, 2021 asking it to reconsider its withdrawal of SIP calls to Texas, North Carolina, and Iowa and to withdraw its 2020 guidance memorandum.

Timeline of Events

obama administration
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June 12, 2015 EPA publishes a final action clarifying and revising its guidance on excess startup, shutdown and malfunction emissions. EPA finds that thirty-six states must revise their State Implementation Plans under the Clean Air Act to incorporate the new requirements by Nov. 22, 2016. This action was a response to a 2011 petition by Sierra Club.

June 12, 2015 Industry sues EPA over its final action. Walter Coke v. EPA, No. 15-1166 (D.C. Cir.).

Trump administration
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March 15, 2017 TCEQ petitioned the EPA to reconsider the SIP call issued to Texas in the 2015 SSM SIP Action.

April 18, 2017 EPA asks the court to delay oral arguments, set for May 8, 2017, while the agency reviews the action.

April 24, 2017 The D.C. Circuit grants EPA’s motion, canceling oral argument and suspending the case indefinitely while EPA reviews the action. The Court orders EPA to file status reports every 90 days beginning July 24, 2017.

June 21, 2017 The D.C. Circuit dismisses Cases 15-1166 and 15-1216 and consolidates remaining cases under Envtl Comm of Florida Elec. Power Coordinating Group v. EPA, Case No. 15-1239 (D.C. Cir.).

April 29, 2019 EPA proposes changes to how it interprets provisions that govern excess emissions that occur during certain upset events, unplanned maintenance, startup, or shutdown activities that apply only to Texas. These changes signal a potential policy change that could apply beyond Texas.

June 5, 2019 EPA proposes approving North Carolina’s State Implementation Plan that departs from the 2015 policy and no longer requires the state to make the revisions required in the 2015 action.

Feb. 7, 2020 EPA finalizes its April 29, 2019 proposal to withdraw its finding of significant inadequacy for the Texas SIP. The decision departs from EPA’s 2015 SIP action by allowing Texas to incorporate certain affirmative defenses into their plan that facilities can use to avoid penalties for emissions during certain malfunction events. EPA Region 6 notes in its final action that the decision applies only to Texas and that it “will determine whether to adopt a similar or other alternative interpretation for other Region 6 states if and when the need for such a determination arises in the future.”

April 3, 2020 EPA files its most recent 90-day status report with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in industry’s case challenging the 2015 SSM action. EPA notes its actions regarding the Texas and North Carolina SIPS but says it is continuing to review the 2015 SSM action. Envtl Comm of Florida Elec. Power Coordinating Group v. EPA, Case No. 15-1239 (D.C. Cir.).

April 7, 2020 Environmental groups challenge EPA’s Feb. 7, 2020 decision to withdraw its finding of significant inadequacy for Texas’s state implementation plan revision. Sierra Club, et al v. EPA, et al, Docket No. 20-01115 (D.C. Cir.).

April 28, 2020 EPA Region 4 finalizes its June 5, 2019 proposal to approve North Carolina’s SIP, withdrawing its SIP call. 

June 29, 2020 Environmental groups challenge EPA’s April 28, 2020 approval of North Carolina’s SIP. Sierra Club v. EPA, Case No. 20-1229 (D.C. Cir.).

Oct. 9, 2020 EPA publishes a guidance memorandum stating that exemption and affirmative defense provisions may be permitted in SIPs under certain circumstances. This memo supersedes the 2015 guidance, completing this administration’s rollback of that policy.

Jan. 15, 2021 Environmental groups challenge EPA’s Nov. 17, 2020 approval of revisions to Iowa’s SIP. Sierra Club v. EPA, No. 21-01022 (D.C. Cir.).

Biden Administration
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Jan. 20, 2021 President Biden signs EO 13990 that directs all agencies to review and consider revising rules issued and agency actions taken during the Trump administration. The 2020 guidance memorandum was included in the White House’s “List of Agency Actions for Review.”

April 12, 2021 The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations filed a petition of reconsideration and rulemaking with EPA asking it to reconsider its withdrawal of SIP calls to Texas, North Carolina, and Iowa and to withdraw its 2020 guidance memorandum.