Continuous Emission Monitoring: Quality-Assurance Requirements During the COVID-19 National Emergency

Effective April 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is amending the emissions reporting regulations applicable to sources that monitor and report emissions under the Acid Rain Program, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), and/or the NOX SIP Call. The amendments provide that if an affected unit fails to complete a required quality-assurance, certification or recertification, fuel analysis, or emission rate test by the applicable deadline under the regulations because of travel, plant access, or other safety restrictions implemented to address the current COVID-19 national emergency and if the unit’s actual monitored data would be considered valid if not for the delayed test, the unit may temporarily continue to report actual monitored data instead of substitute data.

Specifically, in place of the existing requirements to report substitute data following any failure to complete a required test, the amendments instead allow actual monitored data to be reported after certain missed test deadlines, as long as the failure to complete the test is caused by travel, plant access, or other safety restrictions implemented to address the COVID-19 emergency and the monitored data would be considered valid if not for the delayed test.

Sources must maintain documentation, notify EPA when a test is delayed and later completed, and certify to EPA that they meet the criteria for using the amended reporting procedures. Substitute data must be reported if those criteria are not met or if monitored data are missing or are invalid for any non-emergency-related reason. Units are required to complete any delayed tests as soon as practicable after relevant emergency-related restrictions no longer apply, and the emergency period for which a unit can report valid data under the amendments is limited to the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency plus a grace period of 60 days to complete delayed tests, but no later than the date of expiration of the amendments.

Background and Summary of the Rulemaking

The emissions monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting regulations at 40 CFR part 75 (part 75) require affected sources not only to continuously monitor emissions and other data for every operating hour in a control period, but also to conduct a variety of periodic or event-driven tests to ensure high quality of the reported data. Part 75 also requires sources to report substitute data instead of actual monitored data for operating hours when a required test has not been completed in a timely manner. The sources must continue reporting substitute data until the delayed test is successfully completed. The substitute data are intentionally conservative, and ultimately may be as high as a unit’s maximum potential emissions. Most sources subject to part 75 participate in EPA trading programs that require surrender of sulfur dioxide (SO2) or nitrogen oxides (NOX) emission allowances for each ton of reported emissions, thus causing an increase in the source’s allowance costs.

While affected sources typically perform part 75 continuous monitoring activities using highly automated monitoring systems, most sources conduct certain required part 75 tests using outside contractor personnel. Some tests also require calibration gases to be obtained from outside facilities or require fuel samples to be analyzed at outside laboratories. Existing part 75 regulations require sources to report substitute data following all missed test deadlines until the tests are successfully completed, regardless of the reason for missing the test and the possible inability to reschedule the test for multiple months because of restrictions related to the emergency. Based on the reported dates of previous tests, EPA believes that from April to June of this year, approximately 1,000 units will face deadlines for part 75 tests that typically require outside contractor personnel. EPA believes that establishment of a temporary alternative is necessary to reduce risks to power plant operators and other essential personnel from exposure to COVID-19 and is consistent with similar social distancing efforts being taken at this time by all levels of government and the private sector while ensuring that mission-essential functions can be performed.

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Contributed by:

Isaac Smith

District Manager, Mobile, AL Office

(251) 990-9000