One of the common themes on the RECES blog so far has been the importance of proactively maintaining compliance and performing self-audits to avoid enforcement. In our experience over the years, the companies that do so, fare much better in the sea of regulations than those that don’t. Today we are going to talk about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)’s Environmental Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act.

In 1995, the Texas Environmental, Health, and Safety Audit Privilege Act, or the Audit Act, was approved and provides certain immunities from administrative or civil penalties for any violations disclosed and corrected within a reasonable amount of time. The immunities are voided, however, if the entity fails to take appropriate action to maintain compliance.

The Audit Act provides three types of notices: a Notice of Audit, a Disclosure of Violation, and a Request for Extension. Under the Audit Act, certain documents and information gathered as part of an environmental self-audit are privileged from disclosure. The Audit Act also provides certain immunities from administrative or civil penalties for violations voluntarily disclosed and corrected within a reasonable amount of time.

RECES recently conducted a multimedia site audit in Texas under the Audit Privilege Act.  The compliance audit included air, water, and waste permit validations as well as all review of all historical regulatory documents and records. Our team worked on-site with plant personnel to coordinate the audit schedule and goals. A comprehensive dynamic task list was developed to include detailed findings and schedule of corrective actions. All audit activities were documented and along with legal collaborations, were disclosure to TCEQ as required.

Numerous violations were identified and an active corrective actions plan was developed. The plant is currently operating in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations applicable to its operations. Furthermore, regulatory compliance tools were developed along with scheduled task calendar to maintain adequate records and satisfy reporting requirements.

If you have questions or comments regarding the Audit Act, or if your facility or company is considering invoking it, please feel free to contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

Together we can maintain regulatory compliance!

Two of the terms I’ve heard on a consistent basis in the regulatory and compliance industry have been particulate matter (PM) and dust. I personally have had a little confusion with the two terms as they have been interchangeable in some situations but not in others. With today’s post, I want to dive into particulate matter and dust and analyze the differences.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearly defines PM as a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. The EPA splits PM into two categories, 10 micrometers and 2.5 micrometers. PM10 is defined as inhalable particles with diameters below 10 micrometers, and PM2.5 is defined as fine inhalable particles with diameters below 2.5 micrometers. For reference, a single piece of human hair is about 70 micrometers and the human eye cannot see particles smaller than about 40 micrometers.

Particulate matter can be created by many different sources with some of the most common being construction sites, unpaved roads, complex chemical reactions, and smokestacks. The EPA strictly regulates PM like the othercriteria air pollutantsbecause of the danger to public health.

PM10 can get deep into your lungs and bloodstream, potentially causing serious health problems. PM2.5 is responsible for haze or reduced visibility in many parts of the country. California, for example, contains some of the worst smog levels in the country. Three counties in California, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Madera, have the worst smog levels in the country and eight of the ten top cities in the U.S. with the highest concentrations of PM2.5 are in.

A spike is defined as a time when PM2.5 concentration rises above the limit set by the EPA for acceptably healthy air. California, unfortunately, also contains 6 of the top 10 cities in the U.S. for spikes. Bakersfield, in particular, is the most polluted city in America in terms of spikes and PM concentrations. This is aided by a high volume of oil and gas operations in the California Central Valley, where Bakersfield resides.

While PM is clearly defined, dust is a little more ambiguous. It has been used interchangeably by both air quality professionals and those outside the air quality community, however, they should not be interchangeable. All PM can be considered dust, however, not all dust can be considered PM. Dust consists of particles of all size, but particles above 10 micrometers in diameter do not pose a significant health risk as they are not inhalable. They are, however, more likely to be visible to the public.

It is not uncommon for site managers to receive complaints about pollution because of visible dust around their facility without PM monitors detecting anything. This problem should not be compounded by using the two terms interchangeably as one is regulated while one is not, and it is important to know the difference. This is especially important in areas like California’s Central Valley where PM levels have been consistently high.

The team at RECES is committed to providing the knowledge and expertise to navigate the sea of environmental regulations. If you have questions or comments regarding PM or any of the other criteria air pollutants, please feel free to contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

I think we all know the feeling of turning in a paper or a test in school only to realize you’ve made mistakes after the fact. This is especially discouraging if the mistake was a simple one. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fix the mistake with no penalty after the deadline? This isn’t the case everywhere but fortunately, this is the case for some environmental reporting requirements.

Today we want to talk about Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and Emissions Inventory (EI) submissions. The TRI is a federal reporting requirement that is managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and EI is a state program managed by the State agency. TRI is due every year on July 1st for the previous calendar year, and EI’s are due in the first quarter for the previous calendar year (for example, in Texas the TCEQ EI is due on March 31st every year for the previous calendar year). Also, EI reporting is for all air pollutant emissions while TRI covers 595 specific chemicals and 32 chemical categoriesreleased to the environment in any media whether its air, water, soil, or waste.

SARA Title III is the federal regulation that encompasses the requirement for those who meet certain thresholds for chemicals specified in the regulation, and Form R’s are the forms used to report any releases to the environment. If the TRI thresholds are triggered, then TRI reporting is required to be submitted by July 1st for the previous calendar year.

Correctness is, of course, important, but don’t stress out too much about getting absolutely everything correct by the deadline. Do as much as you can by the deadline so you meet it, but keep in mind that you can make any required changes, additions, or deletions. The EPA allows changes to be made to your TRI for up to three years after submission.

On the EI side, sometime after the March 31st deadline the TCEQ will send you a report and show you what you submitted through STEERS and ask that everything be checked for correctness. This is a nice check made by TCEQ for any regulated entities under EI as TCEQ also allows revisions to be made after submittal. TCEQ will send a reminder in December to submit your EI by the deadline.

The idea is to make your submission by the deadline, along with all the necessary supporting data and calculations, then make adjustments after if needed.

If your facility is required to submit both an EI and TRI, ensure that all TRI chemicals in the  EI are speciated, then use this same data for your TRI’s air release portion. This will ensure consistency.  Keep in mind that the State will compare what the EPA-reported TRI with what is reported in the EI, and they will contact you if there are any discrepancies. In our experience at RECES, we’ve seen problems arise if EI and TRI are submitted by two different people or teams.

One of our clients in recent years approached us with a project to revise the past three years of TRI submittals as the client realized there were some errors.  We have also been involved in situations with clients where they have received letters from the TCEQ notifying our clients of discrepancies between their TRI and EI. We were called to go in and determine which one is correct, then update the incorrect submittal in order to rectify the situation.

If you think there may be a mistake on past TRI and EI submittals or if you need advice or questions answered about future submittals, the team at RECES would be happy to help. Please feel free to contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

In today’s world, the saying “the early bird gets the worm” seems to have more meaning than ever. This is especially true in the business of today. For example, with self-driving cars a not too distant reality, just about every major tech company and auto manufacturer is pouring insane amounts of capital into research so they can reap the benefits of being first to a new space.

Now if you are a chemical company and you want to produce a new chemical in order to gain an edge over your competition, in order to bring the product to market quickly, wouldn’t it be beneficial to avoid the lengthy air permitting process for such a chemical?

Two weeks ago today, our Principal, Kevin Moin, P.E., had the pleasure of presenting about such a topic at the 4C Health Safety and Environmental Conferencein San Antonio, Texas. This was not his first time as the 4C team, led by Steve Probst, runs the premier conference that brings together HSE professionals from around the country every year.

The conference is jam-packed with training courses and presentations from the leaders in our space. These courses include topics like stack testing, optical gas imaging, and leak detection and repair (LDAR), to name a few. Kevin’s training course covered the Essentials of Flexible Air Permitting for Chemical Plants

Air permits are chemical-specific evaluations. If you start producing a new product or if you alter an existing formulation, you will need to obtain a new air authorization for that chemical. However, what if you’re a company that is constantly adding new chemicals and altering existing formulas? The air authorization process, which can take several months in some cases, would be a significant hindrance to your business.

This is where building an appropriate flexibility clause into your NSR air permit comes into play, a concept that was pioneered in part by RECES. In essence,  you are building flexibility to add or modify chemicals into your air permit, while still not adding emissions to your overall Potential To Emit (PTE), and meeting the criteria established by local, state, and federal agencies while allowing for the timely authorization of your chemicals.

This flexibility clause allows for the self-authorization of new chemicals according to established agency guidelines given that the facility will not exceed its established PTE. Of course, if there is a change in operations or additional throughput then an amendment to the permit may be required.

An example of flexible air permits in our experience comes from one of our clients who held several New Source Review (NSR) air permits and dozens of Permits by Rule (PBR) at a specific facility. Each time there was a need to authorize a new product or chemical, a new PBR was obtained which also added to their overall PTE. They were concerned as they were approaching the Major Source threshold, which would make them a Title V facility.

The RECES team was called in to consolidate all of their permits and authorizations into one permit with a Chemical Flexibility Clause built in. As stated above, this allowed for the self-authorization of chemicals in a streamlined process.Through this consolidation, a new overall PTE was established which allowed the client to avoid becoming a major source.

Kevin admits that it is tough to cover this topic in-depth in a three-hour course, and I admit that it is tough to cover in a blog post beyond a general level. However, it is a very important topic that we wanted to share.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like us to go into further detail on anything discussed, please feel free to contact Kevin Moin, P.E. by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

Together we can maintain the competitive edge of your business!

If you would like to view the slides used in Kevin’s 4C Training Course, they can be viewed on SlideSharehere.

In our lastpostwe talked about what emissions trading is and, as promised, this week we are going to talk about a specific situation in which we worked with one of our clients and used emissions trading to our advantage.

As a recap, emissions trading is the buying and selling of emissions allowances, or emission reduction credits (ERCs), in a market-based program and it is intended to reduce emissions based on established limits. Emissions trading programs are intended to provide an economic incentive for companies to voluntarily reduce their emissions as this will earn them ERCs.

Once banked, ERCs can be sold on the emissions market or saved for later use. Why would a company want to buy or save ERCs though? What is the motivation?

Well, ERCs can be quite useful primarily in two situations, if a company cannot obtain a permit for their operations in a specific region or if a company produces emissions over their limit. The ERCs can be used to offset any emissions produced.

The team at RECES Environmental has experience in the discovery, negotiation, and implementation stages of the process. We have worked with our clients in many situations where emissions credits were used to our advantage. One such situation took place with a large chemical company we work with.

The company has a facility in Sublet County in Wyoming. In this region, winter-level ozone levels are high so the EPA has established it as a non-attainment zone, which is an area considered to have air quality worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standardsas defined in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970.

Receiving a permit for operations that emit ozone would be especially difficult in the region, but our client needed to operate in Sublet County. We were unable to obtain a permit, but we were able to obtain emissions credits would offset the ozone emissions.

We did so by working directly with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Equalityto find a qualified company that had ozone ERCs available for sale. The agency provided a list of companies in the area with credits, but unfortunately, none were willing to sell. Just like in the stock market, brokerage firms exist within the emissions market so we decided to take that route.

We contacted a firm called Elements Marketwho then found a company willing to sell the ERCs that we needed. In the end, our clients were able to operate after obtaining the ERCs despite not receiving a permit.

Non-attainment zones will typically see high rates of emissions trading because of the lower limits compared to other areas. Other examples of these zones are the Inland Empire in California where particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) levels are high, and the Gulf Coast where volatile organic compound (VOC) levels are high.

The rules and fees surrounding Emissions Reduction Credits and how to attain them can change greatly from region to region, so be sure to consult with the appropriate local, state, and federal regulators to find out what your limitations and requirements are. When used correctly, ERCs and emissions trading can be used to offset emissions or provide additional income for a company.

If you have any questions or comments about emissions credits or emissions trading, or would like a free consultation for your operations, please feel free to contact Kevin Moin, P.E. by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

When I first entered the regulatory and compliance industry, one of the terms I heard thrown around frequently was emissions trading. Often called “cap and trade” or “allowance trading”, I didn’t know what it was or how it worked but it seemed to be a very useful tool for companies in our space.

This post will be the first of a series over the next few weeks regarding what emissions trading and emissions credits are and how they work. With today’s post, I want to answer this question: What exactly is emissions trading?

First, we need to start with what emissions limits and emissions trading programs are. Emissions limits, or caps, are set by the EPA and restrict the overall amount of pollution that sources are allowed to emit in a state, group of states, or nationally. They are typically set lower than the current pollution levels in order to ensure that overall pollution is eventually reduced.

Emissions tradings programs are created by the EPA and distribute emissions allowances to any affected sources according to the emissions limits. For example, facilities are given allowances to emit no more than one ton of sulfur dioxide (SO2) per year by the EPA.

This raises the question, what if a facility emits less than their allowance in a given year? Well, emissions trading programs are intended to provide economic incentives to facilities reducing their emissions below the limits. Any facility that does this would then have the ability to either save the remaining balance for later use or sell it to another facility through the program. This is a nice incentive, right?

For these emissions trading programs to work, however, extremely accurate methods must be used when recording and reporting data so a facility’s emissions can be measured against their allowance. Once data is received by the emissions trading program, it is made available to the public.

Facilities will face penalties if their data is inaccurate or if they do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions at the end of the given year. We talked about the importance of recordkeeping in our previous posts, so this further emphasizes the point.

In summary, emissions trading is the buying and selling of emission allowances on the allowance market. It is an effective vehicle for reducing overall emissions while providing appropriate incentives for doing so. If your facility takes part in an emission trading program and has made the commitment to accurate and consistent recordkeeping, then emission trading can be taken advantage of.

In the next post of this series, I want to talk about specific situations in which companies have used emissions trading. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087.

In ourfirst post, we talked about the potential dangers of a regulatory audit and how to reduce the risk. As a followup to that post, we want to answer the following question: In today’s world with massive amounts of regulations that often overlap, how do you maintain compliance?

Navigating the sea of compliance can be challenging for a lot of companies, especially since regulations can change so drastically from region to region. For example, the Inland Empire in California has much stricter particulate matter (PM) regulations than in other areas because the levels are already so high.

These regulatory challenges can be tackled in an efficient and systematic way by taking the appropriate steps to create internal management tools.

The first step is to simply identify what your regulated entities are. A regulated entity is essentially an operation that is being told by the government what they can and cannot do. These operations will need permits or authorizations in order to operate, otherwise they would face massive fines.

The second step is to identify if local, state, and/or federal regulators govern these entities. For example, the federal EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations govern oil tanks over 1320 gallons. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) also has regulations governing such tanks at a state level. On top of that, local regulations can apply depending on the region or county.

As you might imagine it can get really challenging when these regulations overlap, but you’ll need to abide by all of them.

The third step is to identify the exact regulations that have been put in place by these regulators. The three primary areas are air, water, and waste regulations. If your operations pollute the air or water, or create waste, you’ll need a permit or authorization in that area.

The last step is to know what data to record and how often in order to stay compliant. The regulations often will specify how often you need to record data, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, for example. Other regulations can limit your hours of operation, such as only being able to operate between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Once you have gathered all of this information, a management tool should be created to streamline your processes. The best way to do this is by itemizing what your regulated entities are, each area you’re regulated under, and what the pertaining regulations are all in one checklist, then creating systems to meet these regulations.

Having all of this information in one place will go a long way toward maintaining compliance, and we have seen it help our clients greatly. Companies that wing it with their recordkeeping or don’t do it at all will be hit hard when an audit comes around. Trust us when we say that the cost of recordkeeping is nothing compared to the fines that can result from an audit.

As stated in the previous post, the team at RECES Environmental has decades of experience helping our clients maintain compliance by putting these internal regulatory systems in place. We would be happy to provide advice and work with you to abide by all regulations.

Contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087 to discuss how we can help.

Together we can maintain compliance!

We all know that there are countless regulations for air emissions, such as in AP-42 from the EPA or from state and local regulators. The permitting process is relatively straightforward when there are existing regulations for the operations you are trying to permit, but what should you do when there aren’t?

The best practice is to find the next closest thing when there are no specific guidelines or factors. When doing so, correspondence with the regulator is very important.

Ensure that open lines of communication are established with the appropriate regulator so you can work with them to permit your operations. Justifications for your methodology and any calculations will greatly help in the process as well. If no factors are available, use manufacturer data or stack testing.

For example, one of our clients in Texas wanted to permit a solids loading operation into a closed vessel, but there were no guidelines for this specific kind of loading from the EPA or TCEQ. There are, however, guidelines in AP-42 for solids loading into storage piles. We used this as our guideline since its the next closest thing and justified how and why we were doing so.

We worked with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on behalf of our client to ensure everything they needed was submitted and the appropriate justifications were made. The operations were permitted in a timely manner just like any other permit through TCEQ.

If you have operations you need to permit but aren’t sure how or if you found the right guidelines, the team at RECES Environmental would be happy to assist. Feel free to contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087 to discuss how we can help you permit your operations.

Together we can abide by all regulations!

What is your greatest fear? Heights? Spiders? The unknown?

I know one of my greatest fears is swimming in the ocean and not knowing what is under me, even though I absolutely love the ocean and being at the beach.

If you are responsible for environmental compliance at a regulated facility, one of the things that may keep you awake at night is most likely the fear of enforcement action through a regulatory audit.

Why are audits so scary? The findings resulting from an audit can be quite costly in terms of time and money, not to mention that they can damage the environmental credibility for the company. Audits can be specific to an incident, release, a permitted entity, environmental media, or an entire facility.

What triggers an audit? You can be audited at random, or if your facility receives a complaint. The random audits can come from local, state, or federal (EPA) regulators. The most common complaints come from residents, or employees of companies in the vicinity of your plant. The most common cause will be an odor complaint or complaints of feeling nauseated or sick.

How to be prepared for an audit? The best way to reduce the risk of unwanted results from an audit is to be proactive about your recordkeeping. Just like an IRS audit, it is almost impossible to avoid regulatory audits altogether, but the time to complete an audit can be reduced by having all required information readily available.

By having a well organized and proactive environmental compliance plan, you will significantly increase your chances of having successful auditing results. If you are not organized and prepared at the time of an audit, it will be a red flag for the auditor who will most likely assume that there is something to be found. If you are organized and prepared, the auditor will be able to complete the work faster and the opportunity cost of the downtime will be reduced.

A great way to do this is to create a pragmatic and simple to use system for your facility to record emissions data and to consolidate this information in one place. The team at RECES Environmental has decades of experience handling environmental compliance and recordkeeping for facilities around the country.

We are happy to provide advice and work with you to handle your recordkeeping and reporting needs. Contact Kevin Moin by email at or by phone at (281) 529-5087 to discuss how we can help you reduce your audit risk.

Together we can prevent unnecessary losses due to audits!