Living with your permit

IPPC permit applications are the start of the new regulatory process; but how far does it go? Mark Leatherland and Debbie Hamblin of Carl Bro Group explain.

If you have recently made an application for a permit under Integrated Pollution Prevention & Control (IPPC) or will be making an application soon, you will by now realise that there is an underlying requirement under the regime for continual improvement. In summary, once a permit has been determined it doesn’t stop there. Following receipt of your IPPC permit, the regulator (Environment Agency/Local Authority) will set certain conditions or ongoing requirements that you have to comply with as part of an ‘improvement programme’.

Basically, the regulator must either grant a permit with conditions or refuse it. DEFRA guidance states that the regulator must consider certain across-the-board requirements based on Best Available Techniques (BAT) such as setting out how the operator should monitor emissions and that energy is used efficiently, but furthermore, the regulator must also ‘impose any conditions it considers appropriate’.

These improvements will vary from one company to the next and will also differ between industries. The type of improvement expected may also depend on the quality and content of the permit application, but generally may include one or more of the following commitments:

  • Develop and implement environmental management systems;
  • Conduct appraisal for minimising release of hazardous materials (may include reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from flues);
  • Undertake waste minimisation, water use and energy consumption auditing and mass balance appraisals;
  • Undertake option appraisal for alternative raw material use;
  • vIdentify and report on performance of business using key environmental performance indicators;
  • Assess performance of on-site effluent treatment;
  • Undertake surface water/process water management study;
  • Conduct risk assessments and develop procedures for prevention of fugitive or accidental emissions,
  • Undertake periodic emissions monitoring,
  • Carry out noise assessment and control and develop noise management plans.

Risk appraisal

The Environment Agency has for some time been exploring ways of recovering more of its enforcement costs through the fees and charges it collects from regulated companies. One scheme which was introduced in April is an operator performance risk appraisal (OPRA) scheme which will be used to determine fees and charges under PPC, based on appraisal of a site’s risk, performance and complexity. Under the scheme an emission index based on environmental quality standards has been developed. The greater the emissions the higher the risk and therefore higher risk-linked charge. Additionally there is, albeit limited, emphasis on certification to the international standards ISO14001 or EMAS. Companies committed to reducing risk and setting in place management systems may thus see the benefit of reduced charges in the future, assuming they satisfy the requirements under OPRA appraisal.

Some operators will find that they need to do further monitoring and reporting on the release of certain emissions within an agreed timeframe approved by the regulator and put forward proposals to achieve lower emission levels by a certain time.

Noise can represent a particular problem, particularly if an installation is located near to potentially sensitive receptors. Appropriate noise assessment and control, managed and measured through the development of a noise management plan may be necessary.

Contaminated land issues may indirectly be highlighted from Site Reports. Whilst not specifically assessed under IPPC as it is regulated under separate legislation, the local authority may nonetheless use information in Site Reports as part of their inspection strategies for contaminated land. Operators may wish to investigate potentially contaminated sites further if concerned by the findings of a Site Report.

Typically the intention under IPPC is to improve environmental management at the installation and reduce/eliminate potential sources of contaminating/polluting matter. As such the regulator may seek to stipulate improvements to housekeeping, including provision of appropriate bunding and provision of procedures for the storage and handling of potential contaminants to prevent future contamination.

The regulator can require commitment from companies to develop and implement an environmental management system (EMS); specifying under an improvement programme a timetable/scope for implementation. Some inspectors are going as far as attaching strict deadlines for a company to gain certification to a formal EMS such as ISO14001. Whilst there may be an incentive due to the OPRA appraisal scheme, as indicated above, it is questionable if such a stipulation is reasonable.

Upgrading timescales will be set in your improvement programme, but according to Environment Agency guidance, all improvements should be completed at the latest within three years of the issue of the permit. Failure to comply with IPPC improvement programmes might involve action in the criminal courts against the corporate body or even identified individuals.

Environmental impacts

Some companies may see the concept of improvement programmes as a ‘drain’ on the business resources and an excuse for closer scrutiny by the regulator. Ultimately the appraisal of environmental impacts of the business requires transparency, but it is not the intention to increase policing by the regulator, rather that, in time, industry may be in a position to ‘self-regulate’ on aspects of environmental matters. Improvement programmes under IPPC will thus aim to help focus companies on improving their management of environmental related issues and further reducing business risk.

Forward planning and a pro-active commitment to implementation can pay dividends in the longer term, companies are identifying opportunities for cost savings and improving operations driven by closer scrutiny to the business process.

Ownership of actions and forward planning are the key elements. Although these issues are bought into focus by PPC regulation, other drivers are also influencing companies to consider wider environmental and social impacts of their operations, as well as the focus on economic prospects of the business.

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