RALEIGH — Despite overwhelming opposition, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission yesterday approved new permit rules that exempt small air polluters from needing state permits.
The commission, which is the state’s main environmental rule-making panel, voted 12-1 in favor of the new rules. More than 1,600 people and groups objected to the change during the public comment period last year. Five supported it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also objected to the exemptions.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality developed the plan to exempt about 1,200 small facilities from permitting requirements. They account for 63 percent of the air permits but less than 4 percent of the emissions, a state report submitted to the commission notes.
The plan does not remove or relax any existing emissions standards, the department said in a press release after the commission’s vote, and still requires businesses to comply with all air quality rules and regulations. The businesses that qualify for the exemption can still be inspected by state regulators, the press release notes.
“This is a common sense approach that eliminates costly red tape while improving environmental protection,” said Sheila Holman, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality. “The plan relieves some small businesses from the costs and regulatory burden of having air permits and allows regulators to focus more attention on larger sources of air pollution. This change will actually improve air quality because it incentivizes small businesses to lower their emissions to meet the exemption status and diverts limited state resources to the regulation of impactful polluters.”
While the emissions from each individual plant are small, the cumulative effects, opponents of the rule said, could hurt public health, especially in low-income communities that have a concentration of plants.
The N.C. General Assembly could review the rules when it convenes in April, but they will likely take effect after the legislative session ends this summer.