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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Air Permits

Air Permits Quick Finder

Frequently Asked Questions About Air Permits


Who needs to get an air permit?

There are two types of permits: construction permits and operating permits. Construction permits are required for all new stationary sources and all existing stationary sources that are adding new emissions units or modifying existing emissions units. Operating permits (also known as Title V permits) are required for all major stationary sources. Some local agencies also require operating permits for minor sources.

What's in a permit?

Air quality permits are legally binding documents that include enforceable conditions with which the source owner/operator must comply. Some permit conditions are general to all types of emission units and some permit conditions are specific to the source. Overall, the permit conditions establish limits on the types and amounts of air pollution allowed, operating requirements for pollution control devices or pollution prevention activities, and monitoring and record keeping requirements.

Who issues the permits?

Usually, the permit is issued by the state or local air pollution control agency responsible for the area where the source is located. In some cases, EPA is the permitting authority.

What are the costs involved in obtaining a permit?

For Title V permits, the law requires that permitting authorities charge sources annual fees that are sufficient to cover the permit program costs. Fees are structured so that sources that emit more air pollution pay more for their Title V permits than sources that emit less.

For New Source Review permits issued by EPA, there is no charge to sources. For NSR permits issued by state and local air pollution control agencies, fees vary according to the permitting authority's regulations, which range from token to substantial amounts of money.

In addition to fees charged by permitting authorities, some sources may choose to hire consultants to help them prepare their permit applications and assist them throughout the permitting process.

How long does it take to get a permit?

The amount of time it takes to get a permit varies according to many factors, including what type of permit it is, its complexity, who the permitting authority is, how controversial the project is, and whether the permit is appealed after issuance. A New Source Review permit issued by EPA takes between six months and one year. The time frame for NSR permits issued by state and local air pollution control agencies varies, and is often specified in local regulations. In California, state law requires agencies to issue NSR permits within 180 days.

For Title V, federal regulations say that a permitting authority must issue all of its permits within three years of the date that the agency's Title V program became effective. One third of the total number of permits are supposed to be issued each year. However, most agencies are behind schedule. In addition, issuance can be delayed if EPA, on its own initiative or as a result of a citizen request, objects to a permit. Thus the amount of time it takes to get a Title V permit depends on agency specific time frames and circumstances that are often beyond the applicant's control.

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How often do permits need to be renewed?

Title V permits must be renewed every five years. New Source Review permits can expire if they are not used within a certain amount of time. The expiration time varies according to local regulations. If EPA issues a permit, sources must commence construction within 18 months of permit issuance. If construction does not commence within 18 months, the permit expires. Once construction begins, and if construction is completed in a reasonable time, the permit lasts indefinitely and does not have to be renewed. If a state or local air pollution control agency issues the permit, the source must commence construction within the time frame established by the permitting authority's regulations, which ranges from 12 to 24 months. As with EPA-issued permits, once construction begins the permit lasts indefinitely and does not have to be renewed. Note that in some state and local regulations, NSR permits expire when a Permit to Operate is issued.

If laws change, do permits need to be revised?

If laws change and additional requirements under the Clean Air Act become applicable to a source with a Title V permit, the permit must be revised. If three or more years remain prior to the expiration of the Title V permit, the permit must be reopened and revised. If two years or less remain, the changes can be made when the permit is renewed, at the end of its five year term.

In the New Source Review world, permits are "grandfathered", and do not need to be revised if laws change.

How does the public benefit from permits?

Permits contain specific requirements for facilities to operate pollution control equipment, monitor and limit pollution emissions, and report violations. The primary benefit to the public is that air permits limit the amount of air pollution allowed at a stationary source. For pre-construction permits, federal law does not allow a source owner/operator to construct (or modify) a stationary source unless they can demonstrate that the project will not cause or contribute to a violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Furthermore, source owner/operators are required to provide the public notice of their proposed construction.

For operating permits (Title V permits), a major source owner/operator is required to compile all applicable air pollution requirements at their source (e.g., existing permit conditions, SIP requirements) for purposes of obtaining one comprehensive permit (Title V permit). This process also includes public review of the proposed operating permit. Permits are enforceable documents. The public and the permitting authority may take action if a source fails to comply with its permit.

What's the difference between a Title V operating permit and a New Source Review permit?

Title V of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments requires all major sources and some minor sources of air pollution to obtain an operating permit. A Title V permit grants a source permission to operate. The permit includes all air pollution requirements that apply to the source, including emissions limits and monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements. It also requires that the source report its compliance status with respect to permit conditions to the permitting authority.

A New Source Review (NSR) permit is a pre-construction permit. An NSR permit authorizes the construction of new major sources of air pollution or major modifications of existing sources. NSR permits require the installation and maintenance of pollution control devices. Large sources in polluted areas must reduce pollution or buy credits from another company that has reduced its emissions.

What is the role of EPA and the Public in the Title V Permitting Process?

Title V of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments requires all major sources and some minor sources of air pollution to obtain an operating permit. A Title V permit grants a source permission to operate. The permit includes all air pollution requirements that apply to the source, including emissions limits and monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements. It also requires that the source report its compliance status with respect to permit conditions to the agency that issued the permit, and if the permit is issued by a state or local agency, EPA.

Every proposed Title V permit has a 30 day public comment period and a 45 day EPA review period. The public and EPA review periods may start at the same time, which can speed up the permit issuance process. When EPA reviews a Title V permit (the large number of permits precludes EPA from reviewing every permit), it provides comments to the state or local permitting authority on ways to improve the permit and changes that must be made before the permit can be issued.

If EPA determines that the proposed permit does not assure compliance with applicable requirements or the requirements of part 70 (EPA's regulations that implement Title V), the agency will object to the issuance of the permit during its 45 day review period. If EPA objects to a permit, the permitting authority has 90 days to revise the permit and make the corrections requested by EPA. If the air agency fails to do this, EPA becomes the permitting authority and issues or denies the permit.

In cases where EPA does not object to a permit, any member of the public may petition EPA to object to the permit within 60 days of the end of the EPA review period. The petition must be based on issues that were raised during the public comment period, unless it was not practical to raise these issues during the public comment period or grounds for objection arose after the public comment period.

Draft permits and permit applications are available from the state or local agency responsible for issuing the permit or, in the case where EPA is issuing the permit, from the EPA Regional office. Members of the public may request that the state or local agency include them on their public notice mailing list.

Title V benefits states, EPA, industry and the public by clarifying which requirements apply to a source, and whether the source is complying with them. These requirements are clearly stated in a single document, the Title V permit, which simplifies compliance. Greater source accountability and more effective enforcement should result, leading to improvements in air quality.

Which air pollution control agencies in Region 9 have the authority to issue Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits?

Please see the Air Permit: Delegations page.

Air Permit Program Delegations

Please see the Air Permit: Delegations page.

How can the public participate in this process?

Public notice of proposed permitting actions is published in local newspapers. Permit applications and permits are available to the public. Contact your state or local air pollution control agency or EPA for information on access to these documents.

All Title V permits, and all NSR permits for major sources, have a public comment period, during which anyone can submit written comments on the proposed permits. In many cases, any member of the public may request a public hearing to discuss issuance of a particular permit. In addition, the public may petition EPA to object to the issuance of a Title V permit.

What happens if a source violates its permit?

A source that violates one or more enforceable permit condition(s) is subject to an enforcement action including, but not limited to, penalties and corrective action. Enforcement actions can be initiated by the local permitting authority, EPA or in many cases, citizens.

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