GASP to ACHD: Deny Eastman Chemical’s Changes Until Consent Order Obligations Met
On Feb. 14, 2022, GASP submitted formal comments related to draft installation permits for the Eastman Chemical’s Jefferson Hills facility, along with a petition with nearly 250 signatures.
Here’s what you need to know about the issue:
Eastman Chemical Resins, Inc. (“Eastman”) operates a plant in Jefferson Hills which, according to the company’s web page, “produces hydrocarbon resins and dispersions used primarily in hot melt adhesives, rubber and plastic compounding, coatings, sealants, and plastic modification.” Eastman’s plant includes five manufacturing process units: four polymerization process units (the C-5, MP-Poly, Water White Poly, and Thermal Poly Process Units) and a Hydrogenation Process Unit. These units create most of the air pollution emitted by the plant. The plant also includes a Waste Water Treatment Plant, a Pilot Plant used to test new formulas and processes, and approximately 200 chemical storage tanks of varying sizes.
Eastman’s plant is a major source of volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), which are a criteria air pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act as a precursor to ozone. Accordingly, the Clean Air Act requires that the plant have a Title V Operating Permit. In Allegheny County, Title V Operating Permits are issued by the Allegheny County Health Department (“ACHD”). These permits are important tools for ensuring major sources comply with air pollution law requirements. A source’s Title V Operating Permit must include all of the federal, state, and local air pollution law requirements that apply to the source, and the source must report annually on its compliance with those requirements. ACHD’s own regulations purportedly required that the plant would have its Title V Operating Permit issued by November 2004. However, ACHD has yet to issue a Title V Operating Permit to the plant. What explains this delay?
ACHD was generally slow to issue Title V Operating Permits to major sources of air pollution in the county after its Title V Operating Permit program was approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in November 2001. Eastman was one of many sites that lingered in ACHD’s backlog of unissued Title V Operating Permits in the 2000s.
Since 2011, however, ACHD has not had full control over Eastman’s application for a Title V Operating Permit. In December 2011, the United States and ACHD brought an enforcement action against Eastman under the Clean Air Act. The Complaint in that action alleged numerous violations by Eastman of operating limitations, monitoring requirements, and record-keeping requirements which it was subject to.
More specifically, the Complaint alleged that Eastman failed to monitor and control the temperature of the coolant in the condensers (and related equipment) that controlled emissions from the various processes and tanks in its plant, and that Eastman failed to keep required records that would demonstrate compliance with the operating requirements that applied to those condensers.
The claims against Eastman were resolved by a Consent Order which was filed simultaneously with the Complaint. The Consent Order required Eastman to develop emission testing protocols for certain equipment associated with the process units and for many of the storage tanks in its plant, and submit those protocols to EPA for its approval.
Following each protocol approval, Eastman was to perform an emission test according to the protocol. Eastman was required to then submit a report regarding each test to EPA for approval. Once EPA approved the reports, Eastman was required to submit permit applications for those units to ACHD for its approval. Notably, the Consent Order imposed time limits on Eastman for its required actions, but did not set any time limits on EPA or ACHD for their approvals or denials of any submissions required of Eastman.
The implementation of the Consent Order has not proceeded smoothly or expeditiously.
EPA took until October 2012 to approve certain testing protocols that Eastman was required to submit in January 2012. EPA took about 18 months to approve other testing protocols that Eastman was required to submit by early March 2012. As a result, Eastman did not conduct testing of these protocols until the spring of 2013 and the spring of 2014 respectively.
After Eastman submitted certain testing reports, EPA required Eastman to supplement them. Some reports had to be supplemented two or even three times, dragging the process out for years. Further, the testing protocols for the plant’s C-5 Process Unit and Waste Water Treatment Plant, which were submitted in 2012 and approved in September 2013, apparently proved to be inadequate. Eastman had to perform additional emissions tests on the C-5 Process Unit in 2016 and 2018, and an additional emissions test on its Waste Water Treatment Plant in 2018.
Accordingly, it was not until 2017 that the information necessary for permit applications for at least some of Eastman’s process units was available. Eastman began to submit permit applications for the first of those units in the spring of 2017, and they continued submitting applications through 2018. Very recently (in late 2018 or early 2019), Eastman filed permit applications to modify the requirements for certain equipment in the C-5 Process Unit and increase its authorized production rate and allowable emissions of particulate matter. Although it has been more than seven years since the entry of the Consent Order, Eastman has yet to submit a permit application for the Hydrogenation Process Unit, the Waste Water Treatment Plant, or (it appears) the Pilot Plant.
It is well past time for Eastman, EPA, and ACHD to comply with the terms of the Consent Order that was approved in December 2011. The issuance of Eastman’s Title V Operating Permit pursuant to the requirements of the December 2011 Consent Order will be an important step forward for compliance with the air pollution laws in our region. ACHD is accepting written comments through February 14, 2019 regarding Eastman’s applications to modify its existing installation permits so that it may increase its production rate and emission of particulate matter. ACHD’s air pollution regulations allow it to deny an application for an installation permit for a major source like Eastman if the operator does not have all required operating permits for its facilities in Pennsylvania.
Join us in urging ACHD to withhold authorization of these permit modifications until Eastman has fulfilled the obligations that were imposed on it by the December 2011 Consent Order, including the obligation to submit permit applications for all of the processes at its plant.
— John Baillie, Staff Attorney