HMIP faces first appeals against IPC authorisations

The hopes of HM Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) for a smooth introduction of the new integrated pollution control (IPC) regime were initially set back by appeals by the power generators concerning the disclosure of confidential information in public registers. Now the first appeals against the conditions imposed by HMIP in authorisations have come in - with ICI and British Sugar contesting every authorisation.

Bedding down a new pollution control system inevitably takes time, and it was always likely that some operators would lodge appeals in the initial phase of IPC. What nobody probably expected was how long it would take to issue authorisations for existing large combustion plants, the first group of processes to come within IPC on 1 April 1991.

If everything had gone smoothly, authorisations would have been issued by the end of August 1991. However, the two main electricity generators, National Power and PowerGen, submitted appeals last summer in connection with 30 of their plants after HMIP rejected their applications to keep information on their fuel inputs off the public register on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. A hearing on their appeals was concluded last December but, ten months later, a decision is still awaited from the Environment Secretary.

By last May, applications for confidentiality had been made by another 20 companies - most of them chemical manufacturers installing new or upgraded plants. Although some were rejected by HMIP, none were subsequently taken to appeal (ENDS Report 208, p 29 ).

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, companies may also appeal against HMIP's decisions on their applications for authorisation. These must be submitted within six months - and the first batch has now rolled in.

All five of ICI's authorisations which have reached the six-month deadline are now the subject of appeals. Other companies known to have challenged the conditions laid down in their authorisations include British Sugar - which is unhappy with the authorisations given to nine of its plants - and Texaco.

ICI's prosecution fears
ICI's appeals concern the large combustion plants at its Billingham, Weston Point and Widnes sites and at the Greatham site of its Tioxide subsidiary. The company has also lodged an appeal against the authorisation for its new experimental difluoromethane plant at Widnes.

In all five cases, ICI is arguing that authorisations must be such that "a competent operator, exercising all due diligence and care, can expect to achieve compliance with each condition 100% of the time." It claims that some of the conditions set by HMIP are too strict to enable it to achieve this, while an alleged lack of clarity in some conditions may expose it to prosecutions by environmental groups for "each and every breach", regardless of HMIP's own policy on prosecutions.

Besides this common complaint, the appeals contain numerous site-specific points. One recurrent theme is ICI's objection to the imposition of annual mass emission limits.

National plan
The national plan prepared by the Department of the Environment to implement the 1988 EC Directive on large combustion plant requires annual limits to be set on emissions of SO2 and NOx. The plan covers plant with a net rated thermal input greater than 50MW, and under rules on aggregation to smaller boilers provided they discharge or could discharge through the same stack. By contrast, new rules introduced under the 1990 Act this year provide that combustion plant fall under IPC if the total thermal capacity on a site exceeds 50MW, regardless of the number of stacks (ENDS Report 207, p 27 ).

ICI accepts that, for those combustion plants covered by the national plan, annual mass limits must be imposed. However, its appeal against the Tioxide authorisation reveals some confusion as to whether this plant is covered by the national plan even though its five boilers discharge through one stack. A letter sent to ICI by HMIP in April lists only five ICI plants that fall within the plan - and does not include the Tioxide site.

In its appeal against the Widnes authorisation, ICI argues that because this site does not fall under the national plan, there are no grounds for setting annual release limits for SO2, NOx and particulates. "There seem insufficient environmental or other grounds," says the appeal, "for requiring (say) that this plant, and consequently all others on the site be shut down in mid-December if any of the annual limits had been reached."

Similar arguments are made over annual limits set by HMIP for carbon monoxide emissions from the Billingham and Tioxide plants, and mercury emissions from the Weston Point plant. ICI may have some grounds for complaint about the inconsistent standards used.

Carbon monoxide emissions have damaged the self-cleansing capacity of the lower atmosphere by reacting with hydroxyl radicals, which are then not available to break down other pollutants such as volatile hydrocarbons. However, vehicles are by far the dominant sources of carbon monoxide in the UK, and even if HMIP wanted to abate industrial emissions of the gas there appears to be little justification for doing so by imposing an annual emission ceiling only on selected plants.

There appears to be some confusion within HMIP over the need for annual emission limits. It is clear that companies' actual annual releases will be reportable to HMIP and will be fed into a chemical release inventory due to be established next year. But how this is connected with the setting of annual limits is not clear. Thus, while HMIP's guidance notes on the power and minerals industries make no reference to the need for annual limits, those on the waste disposal sector require that "limits should be set for annual mass releases" of all prescribed substances - among which is carbon monoxide.

ICI also argues that the annual release limit of SO2 for Tioxide's Greatham plant is too tight to be justified on the grounds of the requirement to use the "best available techniques not entailing excessive cost" (BATNEEC).

The argument is that its gas supply contract allows British Gas to interrupt the supply for up to 90 days per year. The annual limit would be effectively fully used up by burning gas oil for those 90 days. ICI argues that this "entails excessive cost", as the company loses flexibility in fuel purchasing and is made totally reliant on British Gas' pricing and supply policies.

Several of the themes of ICI's appeals are echoed in British Sugar's appeals against its nine large combustion plant authorisations. Notably, it is concerned that because some conditions are subjective, they may be unenforceable.

Demand for emission bubble
But British Sugar's main concern is that the annual mass limits for SO2 and NOx will prevent it from operating for significantly more than 130 days. Its business is seasonal and highly variable, with the length of each year's campaign depending on the size of the sugar beet harvest. The company claims that 130 days is insufficient to process a good year's harvest.

British Sugar suggests three solutions to the problem. The first is essentially a "company bubble" approach whereby mass emission limits for all nine plants would be aggregated. The company argues that this would allow it to direct investment in the most cost-effective fashion to the main sites and achieve a greater overall emission reduction. However, this approach is ruled out by the national plan. Company bubbles were allowed for the two power generators, but were deemed too difficult to administer for other industry sectors.

The second solution proffered by British Sugar is that only the four boilers which are individually greater than 50MW should have to meet annual emission limits. It is not clear how many of British Sugar's other plants are covered by the national plan through the aggregation rules. British Sugar's third option is to increase the mass emission limits to cater for a maximum foreseeable crop processing period.

The outcome of ICI's and British Sugar's appeals may have important consequences for future applications. Some of the issues raised have highlighted inconsistencies which need clarification. Perhaps most interesting of all will be the outcome of HMIP's tussle on points of detail with ICI, which has a mass of chemical plants waiting to come within IPC and clearly decided to make an early bid to get authorisation conditions which it regards as routinely achievable.

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