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U.S. Congress weighs changes to Clean Air Act

Chemical makers, other manufacturers push for easing of permit requirements

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
February 15, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 8

Workers constructing an industrial facility.
Credit: Shutterstock
Chemical makers and others want a simpler process to obtain Clean Air Act permits needed to build or upgrade industrial facilities.

Chemical companies, other manufacturers, and their Republican allies in the U.S. Congress are seeking an overhaul of a federal program requiring air pollution permits before industrial facilities are built or expanded.

These permits are mandatory for new construction or significant modifications at existing facilities to ensure companies reduce air emissions.

This Clean Air Act requirement, which dates to 1977, is complex and drags out the permitting process, particularly for existing facilities, companies say. However, it has made older facilities, such as aging coal-fired power plants, upgrade to modern air pollution equipment when companies significantly modify them.

While it has had support from community and environmental groups because it has cut air pollution, the requirement has been a bane of industry for decades. It is the subject of several long-running industry challenges to EPA enforcement actions.

Congressional efforts to limit the regulation through new legislation or EPA guidance have heated up in recent months. At a Feb. 14 hearing on this issue before the House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Republicans said they want to relax permit requirements, while Democrats endorsed retaining them as is.

The Republican push for change comes at a key time for the chemical industry.

The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, estimates that some 317 projects worth $185 billion in new U.S. investment are in planning because of the recent flood of natural gas and natural gas liquids. Some are expansions and others are new projects, and both face a host of local, state, and national permit requirements, ACC says. If a project suffers too many roadblocks or is substantially delayed, the company may look to relocate the facility—along with the related jobs and growth—elsewhere, ACC warns.


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