RAPID/Roadmap/15 (2)

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Hydropower Air Quality Assessment Process (15)

A hydropower developer must comply with state and federal air quality regulations. Emissions generated during the construction phase of a hydropower project may include:
  • Vehicle emissions;
  • Diesel emissions from large construction equipment and generators;
  • Volatile organic compound (VOC) releases from storage and transfer of vehicle/equipment fuels;
  • Small amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates from blasting activities; and
  • Fugitive dust from many sources, such as disturbing and moving soils (clearing, grading, excavating, trenching, and truck and equipment traffic), mixing concrete, drilling, and pile driving.

Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website.

The Clean Air Act is the law that defines EPA's responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation's air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer. The last major change in the law, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, was enacted by Congress in 1990. Legislation passed since then has made several minor changes.

The Clean Air Act requires state and local air pollution control agencies to adopt federally approved control strategies to minimize air pollution. The resulting body of regulations is known as a State Implementation Plan (SIP). SIPs generally establish limits or work practice standards to minimize emissions of the criteria air pollutants or their precursors. Pollutants of concern include sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, lead, carbon monoxide, and ozone. EPA has established national ambient air quality standards for these pollutants. SIPs include preconstruction permit requirements for projects that may result in emission increases.

One of the major initiatives Congress added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 is an operating permit program for larger industrial and commercial sources that release pollutants into the air. Operating permits include information on which pollutants are being released, how much may be released, and what kinds of steps the source’s owner or operator is required to take to reduce the pollution. Permits must include plans to measure and report the air pollution emitted. The EPA has, for most states, authorized the state to administer the Clean Air Act for facilities within each states' boundaries. In such cases the state will issue permits under the Clean Air Act. States and tribes issue operating permits. If those governments do not do a satisfactory job of carrying out the Clean Air Act permitting requirements, EPA can take over issuing permits.

Operating permits are especially useful for businesses covered by more than one part of the Clean Air Act and additional state or local requirements, since information about all of a source’s air pollution is in one place. The permit program simplifies and clarifies businesses’ obligations for cleaning up air pollution and can reduce paperwork. For instance, an electric power plant may be covered by the acid rain, toxic air pollutant, and smog (ground-level ozone) sections of the Clean Air Act. The detailed information required by those separate sections is consolidated into one place in an operating permit. Businesses seeking permits pay a permit fee to the state or local agency overseeing the permit process. These fees pay for the air pollution control activities related to operating permits.

The 1990 amendments also strengthen EPA's power to enforce the Clean Air Act, increasing the range of civil and criminal sanctions available. In general, when EPA finds that a violation has occurred, the agency can issue an order requiring the violator to comply, issue an administrative penalty order (use EPA administrative authority to force payment of a penalty), or bring a civil action (sue the violator in court).

See EPA's EPA Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act for more information.

Air Quality Assessment Process Process

15.1 - Are There Potential Impacts to Air Quality?

If there are potential impacts to air quality, then the developer will be required to obtain a permit.

15.2 - Initiate Air Quality Assessment Process

A hydropower developer may need to obtain a air quality permit before commencing construction or operation activities.


Alaska does not require a air quality permit for hydropower construction or operation activities.


In California, a developer seeking to construct, modify, or operate a facility or equipment that may emit air pollutants from a stationary source must obtain an Authority to Construct from a local Air Pollution Control District (APCD) or Air Quality Management District (AQMD). The APCD or AQMD monitor new and modified sources of air pollutants for compliance with national, state, and local emissions standards and to ensure the source will not interfere with the attainment and maintenance of ambient air quality standards adopted by the Air Resources Board (CARB) and the EPA. Each APCD or AQMD determines which emission sources are exempt from permitting requirements and the specific procedures for issuing an Authority to Construct. The procedures that follow are a sample of the common procedural requirements for issuance of an Authority to Construct. For more information, see:

Construction Air Quality Permit:


In Colorado, a developer may need a Construction Air Quality Permit during the construction of the facility. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) oversees the process for construction air permits. All sources of air emissions must obtain a construction air permit, unless specifically exempted under Air Quality Control Commission Colorado Code of Regulations 5 CCR 1001-5, Regulation Number 3 Stationary Source Permitting and Air Pollutant Emission Notice Requirements.5 CCR 1001-5 Part A (I)(A), Applicability, Colorado – C.R.S. 25-7-114.2, Construction Air Permits. Construction air permits are issued to commercial and industrial air pollution sources to ensure compliance with all relevant air quality regulations.

Construction Air Quality Permit:

New York

New York does not require a air quality permit for hydropower construction or operation activities.


Vermont does not require a air quality permit for hydropower construction or operation activities.

15.3 - No Permit Needed; Continue with Project

If the project will not impact air quality, then no CAA permit is required.

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