Air Pollution:

Difficulties in Implementing a National Air Permit Program

RCED-93-59: Published: Feb 23, 1993. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to implement a national air permit program, focusing on: (1) the status of EPA and state efforts to implement an effective permit program; (2) whether the program's budgeted resources were adequate; and (3) whether permit fees assessed by state agencies were sufficient to cover program costs.

GAO found that: (1) the 8-month delay in issuing the final EPA permit rule has resulted in delays in program implementation, EPA guidance and state assistance, setting of permit fees, development of a federal permit program model, and assessments of whether state permit program fees would cover program costs; (2) delays in issuing the final permit rule have limited state capability to implement the program; (3) further delays in program implementation were due to controversy over final permit rule provision requirement inconsistencies; (4) EPA allocation of 60 staff years indicated that it may have understated its needs and raised concerns regarding its ability to manage and oversee the permit program; (5) EPA has not sufficiently planned for the resources needed to implement and oversee the program; (6) states have recognized that the costs to implement and manage their programs will be significant, but some states have made little progress in identifying or quantifying costs for permit fees; and (7) political and economic pressures to keep fees low may prevent state and local agencies from recovering the full program costs through fees.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Additional guidance documents have been provided to states in developing approvable permit programs including: (1) criteria for approvable state enabling legislation; (2) discussion and listing of regulated air pollutants; (3) program review checklist; (4) model permits; and (5) interface of permit programs with requirements for control of toxic air pollutants. A series of conferences and workshops has also been used to disseminate information to state agencies on the requirements of the operating permit program. Additionally, an electronic bulletin board at the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards is used to disseminate information to states regarding the permit program.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should expedite efforts to provide additional guidance for state agencies to use in implementing their title V permit programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has provided additional criteria to states to use in obtaining approvable enabling legislation from respective state legislatures for implementing operating permit programs.

    Recommendation: EPA should increase its efforts to assist states in obtaining additional legislative authority for implementing their permit programs and for assessing fees sufficient to cover the costs of their programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA proposed the Federal Permit Program Rule (Part 71) on April 27, 1995. Public comments are being addressed. Adoption of the final rule is targeted for November 1995.

    Recommendation: EPA should give priority to issuing the federal permit program rule earlier than November 1994 to provide a model for state and local agencies that are implementing new programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes that it has developed realistic resource estimates for oversight of state permit programs, and takes exception to GAO's basis for projecting its resource needs. EPA is working closely with state and local agencies to develop effective permitting programs and encouraging the development of state-EPA implementation agreements to identify roles and responsibilities. Permitting authorities have been identifying controversial permits that require detailed EPA review. Through the use of differential program oversight and other screening techniques, EPA will monitor state-approved permits. EPA's review of all permits will not be needed. EPA agrees that it will need additional resources if it has to assume responsibility for states that fail to implement their own programs. In the event a federal program is needed, EPA will consider whether it can delegate the program to minimize the need for additional EPA resources.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop realistic estimates of the resources needed to fulfill EPA's long-term role for overseeing the title V permit program, including the additional resources that will be required to assume responsibility for implementing permit programs for states that fail to implement their own programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is still working with states to get approvable programs in place. Thus far, in FY 1995, 18 state programs and 36 local programs have been approved. As most of the program approvals have occurred in FY 1995, EPA's oversight of state program implementation will occur in FY 1996. As part of this oversight, EPA will monitor the permit reviews and program operations to ensure that permits are issued in a timely and appropriate fashion and to ensure that sufficient fee revenues are obtained in order to operate a viable program.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, when reviewing and approving program plans, should evaluate the adequacy of states' permit fee structures in all cases to ensure that the revenues generated from such fees are sufficient to support a title V permit program.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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