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Article # 0069

Regulatory Considerations for

Plant Modifications


This article describes various regulatory agency reports, permits, and/or plans that must be considered whenever a physical or operational modification to a plant is proposed.

For the purpose of this article, a plant is any facility, or group of facilities, that have the potential to emit a regulated pollutant into the environment or create a new hazard as a result of a proposed modification. Plant modifications include both physical and non-physical changes. An example of a physical change is addition of new process equipment. A non-physical change might be a change in plant operating procedures alone.

Information to Begin Preliminary Review of Project

The following type of information is necessary to perform a preliminary determination of the applicability of regulatory programs to a modification project:

Preconstruction Considerations

The above information is normally obtained during the early stages of the project and prior to final design. Preconstruction permitting typically assumes worst-case scenarios to arrive at maximum emission potential and in light of the preliminary nature of preoperational design parameters. Once the process design work is finalized, and during operation, important permitting parameters are revisited to ensure that they remain within permit representations and agency standards. Revisions to the permit or changes in the process may be required to meet the standards.

Regulatory Programs Potentially Applicable to Expansion Projects

Once information on the proposed project is available, a preliminary list of potentially applicable regulatory programs is compiled. A summary of common regulatory programs is presented below:

State and Federal Air Quality Permitting Requirements

Most states have preconstruction air permitting programs wherein agency personnel perform a technical review of permit application materials submitted by plant personnel. Agency review time (from application receipt to issuance of permit authorization to begin construction) can vary widely due to many factors. It is not unusual for large and complicated permitting projects to take a year or longer to be approved. Smaller projects can often be approved within 30 to 90 days. Typically “preconstruction” permitting is a limiting factor for a project’s progression.

Preconstruction permitting involves an evaluation of all local, state, and federal regulations potentially applicable to the proposed project. For example, state agencies may perform Best Available Control Technology (BACT) review and request emission control equipment to obtain permit approval. Other important programs reviewed are EPA New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). 

Local Building Permits

Most localities require any new addition or change to a property, within their jurisdiction, to undergo a building or structural permit review. Applications are submitted with information to demonstrate compliance with city land-use restrictions, building codes, etc... These permit applications are typically prepared and submitted by the construction contractor in charge of laying foundations and building structures. Some of these permits can have preconstruction limitations.

Local Fire Prevention Bureau Permits

Most localities have a Fire Prevention Bureau or contact within their Fire Department. The Fire Prevention contact ensures that new or modified facilities have been constructed in compliance with International, National, and/or Local Fire Codes. The codes may prescribe electrical equipment requirements, fire control and abatement equipment requirements, etc… Some projects may require employment of a Fire Protection Engineer to perform a detailed review of the proposed project to ensure that fire hazards have been identified and adequate fire control equipment and systems are being proposed as part of the project. The Fire Protection Engineer’s report will be included with the application materials submitted to the Fire Prevention Bureua for their review and approval. A Fire Department representative may visit the plant during any phase (post construction, construction, start-of-operation, etc…) of the project to ensure proper implementation of all requirements. Once the Fire Department is comfortable that all requirements have been met, they will usually issue a “permit” for display at the plant site.

Process Safety Management

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (or OSHA) regulations under 29 CFR 1910 address process safety management (PSM). PSM involves the incorporation of systems for preventing or minimizing the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals. Typically, the company designing the process unit will work with plant staff to complete the PSM regulatory requirements. Often a consulting engineer with specific training on the new process will visit the plant and train plant operators and help plant staff fulfill the OSHA PSM requirements. The consulting engineer or process technician will train plant staff on all operating scenarios such as initial start-up, emergency shut-down and normal operation. The PSM plan developed will address the following elements:

EPA Risk Management Program (RMP)

Facilities holding more than a threshold quantity of a RMP regulated substance in a process are required to comply with EPA’s Risk Management Program regulations. The regulations require implementation of a risk management program and submittal of a Risk Management “Plan” to EPA prior to the regulated substance being present at the facility.

The information required from facilities under this program helps local fire, police, and emergency response personnel prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies.

If RMP is applicable to the plant expansion or new process, the following areas should be addressed:

Other programs potentially affected by a plant modification include:


There are a myriad of regulatory programs, permits, registrations, and plans that must be considered when a plant is modified. This article does not present an exhaustive list, but lists some of the more common programs of concern for most industrial processes.


Jack L. Bullard, P.E. is an Engineering Partner of Bullard Environmental Consulting, Inc. He has over 20 years experience in environmental engineering, compliance, and permitting. Jack has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Jack L. Bullard, P.E. No. 83547



Article # 0069       

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