Pollution Prevention and Control: life after the permit

Paul Boughton

Having spent money and resources in support of Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Permit applicationsand having waited anxiously for determination of permits; many operators throughout all walks of industry and manufacturing are now breathing a sigh of relief that the PPC nightmare is coming to a close.

PPC Permit determinations carried out by the UK’s Environment Agency (the Agency) usually involve the generation of an installation-specific improvement programmerequiring further investment by the operator and commitment to continual improvement whilst operating under the PPC Permit. Failure to complete improvements within set timescales can leave operators in breach of their permit and facing enforcement action from the Agency; in the worst case this can mean prosecution or even closure.

Alongside the improvement conditionsthere are many other reporting and management requirements that could be major pitfalls to operators thinking thaton issue of their permitlife is going to be plain sailing. Such requirements include:

  • Improvement Conditions.

  • Site Protection and Monitoring Programmes.

  • Notification of Changes to Operations.

  • Annual Reporting Requirements.

Sojust how well do you know your permit?

Improvement Conditions

During Permit determination the Agency will review the voluntary improvement programme proposed by the operator and add further improvements where they consider that Best Available Techniques (BAT) are not currently being used. Most operators will have a fair idea of their likely improvement conditions from a working knowledge of the installation and pre-application liaison with the Agency.

For examplean installation which has received complaints of nuisance in the last few years will almost always be required to investigate the matter further. Dependant on the nuisance causedthe improvement condition may require noise or odour monitoringor an assessment of visual plumes etc. Many of the assessments should be undertaken in line with Agency Guidance and/or British Standardsand as such can be costly and time consuming. During the PPC Permit review stage operators should liaise with the Agency to find out exactly what is required and how much of their environmental budget is likely to need earmarking for PPC compliance.

There are also several ‘standard’ improvement conditions whichunless the operator has actioned them in the past two yearscan in most cases be taken as read. These include completion of:

  • A Waste Minimisation Audit within two years of Permit issue. The audit should analyse the use of raw materials and assess the opportunities for reduction using process mapping and materials mass balanceand provide an action plan for improvements.
  • A Water Minimisation Audit within two years of Permit issue. The operator should produce flow diagrams and water mass balances for the installationand assess techniques for minimisation and reuse of water. Efficiency objectives should be set up and benchmarked against other operators’ performance.
  • Site Closure Planusually within one year of Permit issue. The plan should demonstrate that the installation can be decommissioned to avoid any pollution riskreturning the site to a ‘satisfactory state’. It should include methods for the safe removal of pipelines and storage vesselslagoons and on-site landfillsas well as methods for dismantling buildings and other structures and removal of asbestos and other potentially harmful materials.

Site protection and monitoring

A design Site Protection and Monitoring Programme (SPMP) should be submitted to the Agency within two months of Permit issue. The plan should include details of all proposed Environmental and Infrastructure monitoring planned during operation under the Permit. Depending on the outcome of the Application Site Report (ASR); an installation may also require Reference Data to be collected.

In cases where Reference Data is requiredthe SPMP should include a detailed design of the proposed site investigations (boreholes and trial pitsgroundwater and soil monitoring etc.) required to collect the data. On larger installations the planning of site investigation can be a mammoth task; meaning that this is a key area where operators often find themselves requiring specialist advice.

Even where Reference Data is not requiredthe SPMP is no small task; the plan should outline all monitoring to be undertaken at the installationand will be used at Permit surrender to prove compliance with the PPC Permit during operations. As suchrobust monitoring regimes and record management practices are keyand the SPMP should be updated regularly to reflect any changes related to operations under the Permit.

Once the design SPMP has been accepted by the Agencyoperators have a further four months to collect the ‘first phase’ results of their monitoring programme. For those requiring Reference Datathis includes the proposed site investigations. The SPMP First Phase Report should be submitted to the Agency within six months of Permit issue.

Changes to operations

Once an installation is operating under a PPC Permit; all changes to operations should be agreed with the Agency before being commissioned. A ‘change in operation’ could entail either technical alterations or modifications in operational or management practices.

  • For minor changes (those with no significant potential environmental impact) the Agency should be notifiedie written details of the changean assessment of its possible environmental effects and the proposed installation date should be submitted to the Agency for review.

  • For standard changes (which may require a revision of the conditions within the permit) operators should complete a full variation application. The application process is similar to that of the original Permit applicationbut should detail only the change to operation rather than the installation as a whole. An application feebased on the operators’ current EP-OPRA scoreis required to cover determination of the new Permit requirements.

  • For substantial changes (those whichin the opinion of the regulatormay have significant negative effects on human beings or the environment) a full variation application should also be submitted. In these casesgiven the additional Agency resource requiredthe application fee is approximately double that of a standard variation.

Reporting requirements

The Agency requires thatin addition to actioning conditions within the permit operators report regularly on progress made. Permit reporting conditions usually include:

  • Written notifications of the date of completion of each (physical) improvement condition within fourteen days of completion.

  • Completion of specific improvement condition reportswhich may cover auditingimpact assessmentenvironmental management practicesprocess benchmarking etc.

  • Regular reporting of monitoring resultsas specified in Schedules two and three of most permits.

  • Annual reporting of monitoring results (by 31st January each year)as specified in Schedule four of most permits.

  • Summary reporting of progress on fugitive emission minimisationas determined by the Agencybut usually on an annual basis; and

  •  Summary reporting of annual progress against Environmental Management System (EMS) targets and objectives for installations operating to a formal EMS.

PPC installations are also required to report annually to the Agency’s Pollution Inventory database. Annual emissions data should be submitted to the database before the 28th February each year.

Though reporting is often seen as a bureaucratic nuisanceoperators can and should be turning it to their advantage; advertising their environmental practices and setting themselves apart from their competitors. All improvement conditions and annual reports submitted to the Agency are held on the public register and so should be of a standard which reflects the professionalism of the Installation. With very little extra work the required reports can be fashioned into public relations/trade publication articles which can serve as useful tools.

As with everything associated with PPC; reporting is an ongoing process which is not about to disappear overnight. The main thing for operators to remember in the first years of PPC regulation is that work towards compliance cannot simply be forgotten about following issue of the Permit. In order to stay clear of enforcement actionand in front of competitorsoperators should review their Permits carefullyand action appropriate measures in good time. 

Ruth Fain is with Golder Associates (UK) LimitedTadcasterLeedsEngland. She has extensive experience of all aspects of PPC permittingranging from regulatory liaison and completion of full PPC applicationsto Schedule 4 Notice responseassistance with improvement conditions and Permit VariationsSite Protection and Monitoring Programmes and Site Closure Plans. For more informationvisit www.golder.com