Owners/operators at regulated facilities often find themselves in the following situation (at least every five years): an environmental permit renewal is due right around the corner and management is pushing environmental staff to lower consulting costs. Due to more pressing matters, permit renewal applications often turn into a "just get it done quickly" task. While this approach does result in a submittal, it unfortunately can end up requiring more time, attention, and cost when additional information is required later for processing and/or when permit obligations remain confusing or out-of-sync with current operations. Permitted facilities generally dread an agency's Request for Additional Information (RAI), which can slow the permit renewal process and drive up costs. Furthermore, numerous back-and-forth exchanges between the permittee and the agency can become tedious and time consuming. If renewal applications are instead approached with more consideration, these time and cost expenditures can be minimized and additional opportunities for optimized permits can be exploited.
To ensure a streamlined permit renewal process, consider the ten tips listed below. These tips are based on experience gained in preparing thousands of permit renewals across the country; discussions with regulators at federal, state, and local levels; and insights gleaned through the hosting of training seminars which facilitate idea-sharing between regulators and industry.
1 − Maximize Communication
The most important consideration during any permit process, including renewals, is to maintain open communication with all involved parties. The permit renewal process is one where facility staff (EHS staff, engineering, operations, and management), regulators, and consultants (if utilized) should all be involved and working together. Communication includes planning and sharing the timeline for the various stages in the permit renewal process leading up to the application's submittal.
It is important to keep everyone informed so that the entire process is planned and conducted smoothly. Appropriate communication also extends beyond the permit renewal process, both in keeping regulators updated regarding what is going on at the facility and enabling open communication with facility staff to ensure awareness of proposed changes at the facility that may need to be addressed via permitting (i.e., what a facility may consider a like-kind equipment replacement may actually trigger permitting).
2 − Be Proactive
Preparing a timeline for the renewal process is a must. It is important to begin preparing for the permit renewal at least 6–12 months prior to the date the renewal application is due. This provides enough time to delegate responsibilities, gather the required information, and communicate with all parties involved. During this planning process, the staff should determine if a consultant is needed to assist with preparing the renewal application, what sort of information is needed and by when, and what correspondence with regulators is required during the application process.
3 − Know Your Permit
It is important for the stakeholders to read and understand the current permit and to familiarize related staff (engineering, operations, management, and sometimes maintenance) with all of its requirements for appropriate operation, monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting. This involves understanding the actual permit, its attachments, and any federal requirements that are cited in the permit. This will also give the facility staff the opportunity to determine if any permit changes should be requested while the permit is being reopened. Familiarity with the permit also allows the staff to ask appropriate questions of the agency and request any needed clarification to permit language in order to fully understand the conditions.
4 − Arrange a Pre-Application Meeting with Permitting Agency
Permitting agencies often encourage a pre-application meeting prior to the permittee preparing the permit application. This can involve either a meeting or a conference call with the agency. In addition to gathering useful information during this meeting, it allows the permittee to demonstrate good will in its efforts to engage the agency regarding its permitting process and enables the staff to work through questions/concerns early on in the application process. This can smooth the working relationship with the regulator or permit engineer and provides the regulator the opportunity to ask questions in order to best understand facility operations. It also provides the opportunity to reach mutual understanding on timing for the permit's issuance (given, current agency workload), the appropriate permitting path, and to establish a rapport with the agency such that they freely share tips for streamlining the process. Conducting this meeting early ensures that the facility is aware of exactly what information the agency is expecting and reduces the likelihood of obtaining an RAI subsequent to the application's submittal, which frequently occurs if incorrect application forms are submitted or if there is agency confusion regarding process descriptions.
5 − Designate Responsibility
When preparing the permit application, it is important to delegate required tasks and seek input from appropriate personnel at the facility. Often personnel involved in operations are needed to confirm specific details of the plant's operations and to determine whether the current permitting language is still appropriate or if it needs updating or clarifying. Management may be involved to ensure that any permit requests and associated timing requests are consistent with the organization's strategic planning goals for the future. Environmental staff should also confirm that the designated responsible official or authorized representative understands their role in the application's final review and certification and will be available to approve the final permit application (possibly via electronic submittal).
6 − Gather Appropriate Records
It is important to ensure early on that the appropriate records for preparing the final permit application package are available. This is also required to confirm facility compliance and determine if the required records are being maintained on-site. Renewal applications, particularly for Title V permits, require a compliance certification where management certifies that to the best of their knowledge they have reported all non-compliance issues. Furthermore, permit renewal submittals typically also trigger a visit to the facility by the agency, especially if the permit writer is new to the facility. In addition, depending on the state and associated permit renewal requirements, items such as operating records, facility plot plans, process flow diagrams, standard operating procedures, and operations and maintenance plans may be required for submittal with the application. Identifying these requirements early on guarantees sufficient time to gather and/or prepare required documents.
7 − Submit a Complete Application
In order to streamline the permitting process and expedite agency review, a complete permit application must be submitted. This includes ensuring that the appropriate forms are prepared and all required supplemental information is also submitted. A complete application will involve confirming that appropriate emissions calculations have been prepared and can be easily followed. It also involves ensuring that a thorough regulatory analysis has been performed such that regulatory applicability and determinations are provided to the agency rather than expecting the agency to make a determination based on piecemeal information. Environmental regulations change constantly, and it is typical for many of the newer regulations to require a re-evaluation during the renewal process. It is a mistake to assume that the current permit addresses all applicable requirements, as new regulations and revisions to regulations are constantly being promulgated. Furthermore, it is important that thorough and accurate descriptions of operations and equipment are provided and not left open for question. If thorough information is not provided, incorrect determinations may be made or the permitting process may be delayed due to RAIs.
8 − Submit Electronically
Most states have systems in place for submitting application material electronically and providing electronic certifications from the responsible official or authorized representative. These methods are often preferred by the permitting agency and ensure a more timely review of the permit application. Electronic methods also streamline the submittal process, by reducing the time required to manually prepare hard-copy application forms, submit the appropriate number of copies, and obtain the appropriate signatures. However, pre-registration in the electronic systems is often required, particularly to authorize responsible official signatures electronically. Do not wait until the due date to attempt a first-ever electronic submittal!
9 − Submit Application on Time
In order to ensure facility compliance and allow the facility to continue operating legally after permit expiration, the permit renewal application MUST be submitted by the application due date (a.k.a., application shield as provided in 40 CFR 70.7(c)(1)(ii)). Once a timely application is submitted, the permitting agency must meet federal and/or state requirements for reviewing the application, requesting additional information, and authorizing the renewed permit. This window includes a public comment period where any concerns regarding the permit's reissuance can be publicly addressed.
10 − Review Draft and Final Permit
It is extremely important that the owner/operator and consultant, if applicable, review the draft permit once it has been issued. This gives the facility staff – including engineering, operations, and management – the opportunity to address any additional permitting changes if needed, further discuss with the agency changes that were not incorporated into the permit, and address any errors in the draft permit. Once the permit is issued, the requirements become federally enforceable and the facility is obligated to comply. It is important to read the permit to fully understand the permit's requirements. This information should be relayed to facility personnel such that any needed operational changes are addressed and implemented in a timely manner.
The permit renewal application process can be a time-consuming task. However, appropriate planning can lead to a streamlined, efficient process that results in a desirable, improved permit for the facility. Treat this routine requirement as an opportunity for continual process improvement!