Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final approval of an air permit for the construction and operation of a new 77 megawatt solid waste facility, owned by Energy Answers Arecibo, LLC’s, at the former site of Global Fibers Paper Mill in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The approval comes after a setback to Energy Answers in Puerto Rico, when the Executive Director of Solid Waste Authority cancelled its contract with the company, after the territorial Department of Justice issued an opinion stating that the authority could not force municipalities to contract Energy Answers because it would amount to a violation to the Law of Autonomous Municipalities, as El Vocero reports.

Mark Green, Energy Answers Project Director in Puerto Rico and manager of the permitting process,said that the company is pleased that EPA completed their review of this final federal air permit and described the determination of the EPA as a confirmation of the high environmental standards set by the company. The permit, which comes after a long and rigorous review process by the nation’s highest technical and regulatory authority, ensures that the proposed facility will comply with the all applicable EPA regulations and will help to improve the environment for the citizens of Arecibo and Puerto Rico. Mark Green added that “the emission standards contained in the permit are the most stringent conditions ever issued by the U.S. EPA for a facility of this type. The project will bring a state‐of‐the‐art solution for fully compliant solid waste management and the generation of renewable energy. The project represents a viable, environmentally sound alternative to the continued reliance on non‐compliant landfills that are currently polluting the island’s natural resources.

The permit requires Energy Answers to use the best available control technology to reduce air pollutants to the maximum degree. The permit also requires performance tests, some continuous emissions monitoring, as well as other monitoring requirements to make sure that Energy Answers meets the air pollutant limits set in the permit. The EPA reviewed the analysis of the projected air quality impacts and has determined that the facility will meet air quality standards. 

Since first proposing the permit in May 2012, the EPA held six public hearing sessions in Arecibo. The agency extended its public comment period and ultimately reviewed over 3,000 public comments before making its final decision. The EPA has carefully considered all comments and oral testimonies, and prepared detailed responses to these comments, which can be found on the EPA’s website. The response to comments is available in English and will be available in Spanish within a week.

The EPA made a number of adjustments to the permit in response to public comments. Several operating, monitoring and reporting requirements in the permit are more stringent than originally proposed. The final permit contains requirements for more frequent testing for dioxin and furan emissions.

In addition to the direct requirements of the permit for the facility, Energy Answers will finance the installation of a second monitor in the community to collect data on lead emissions. This is in addition to a lead monitor that is already operating in the Arecibo area. The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board also operates an air monitor for particles in Barceloneta, approximately 8 miles from Arecibo.

The EPA’s approval of the air permit may be appealed through the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C. The Environmental Appeals Board is authorized to review challenges to air permits issued by the EPA among other matters. The deadline for filing a written appeal is July 11, 2013.