Fact Sheet - Air Approvals in Ontario

This informative ORTECH fact sheet provides a brief outline of the environmental approvals regime for sources of air emissions in Ontario.   

Overview of Approvals Process
In general, anything that releases contaminants (including noise) into the air in Ontario requires some sort of approval issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) to install, replace, modify, or operate.  As of October 31, 2011, the MOECC has implemented two-path approvals process, which replaced the previous Certificate of Approval (CofA) program.  The two paths are:

1.    The Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) process; and,
2.    The Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) process.

The ECA process is essentially the equivalent of the historical CofA program - in fact, all historically issued CofAs are still considered to be valid and equivalent to an ECA. Most facilities with sources of air emissions in Ontario will require an ECA.  The EASR process represents a new approval path with no direct historical equivalent. The EASR process is a permit-by-rule system which applies only to specific activities (sources) with well known, easily mitigated, and predictable environmental impact.  The path selection process is non-optional. Sources prescribed by the MOECC for the EASR path must (outside of a special request being granted) follow that path, while all other sources must follow the ECA path.

Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) Process
An Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) is the legal instrument issued by the MOECC which permits the operation, installation, and/or operation of a source of air & noise emissions. The requirement for an ECA is formalized in section 9 (1) of the Ontario Environmental Protection Act, R. S. O. 1990, (the EPA) which states:

“9. (1) No person shall, except under and in accordance with an environmental compliance approval,

(a) use, operate, construct, alter, extend or replace any plant, structure, equipment, apparatus, mechanism or thing that may discharge or from which may be discharged a contaminant into any part of the natural environment other than water; or

(b) alter a process or rate of production with the result that a contaminant may be discharged into any part of the natural environment other than water or the rate or manner of discharge of a contaminant into any part of the natural environment other than water may be altered.”

An ECA will contain terms and conditions that the holder must follow. Typical conditions include requirements to operate the sources in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and good practices, keep records of maintenance activities, and to keep track of any public complaints.

What’s Involved in Obtaining an ECA?
To obtain an ECA, an application must be submitted to the MOECC for review.  The application must include supporting technical documents that show that the sources applied for will operate in compliance with various MOECC regulations, guidelines, limits, and policies for air & noise emissions.  MOECC Engineers will review the technical reports contained in the application, and an MOECC Director will either decide to issue or refuse an ECA based on the review findings. It is important to note that air & noise are always approved in aggregate, and that an application for an air ECA must generally also include an assessment of noise emissions.

Preparing a typical ECA application involves the following steps:
1.    Complete the MOECC application forms and gather any required administrative documents;
2.    Prepare an Emissions Summary and Dispersion Modelling (ESDM) report, which shows that air emissions will meet MOECC standards, guidelines, and limits; and,
3.    Demonstrate that noise emissions will meet MOECC limits, either by completing a screening process or by preparing an Acoustic Assessment Report (AAR).

Once the above items have been assembled, the application is submitted to the MOECC for their review and consideration.

MOECC Application Forms & Administrative Documents
This is the simplest part of the application process and involves completing the MOECC’s electronic application form, and compiling supporting administrative documents, such as a master business license, and/or a property lease agreement, if applicable.  Completion of the forms requires readily available information about the applicant’s head office, mailing, and facility addresses, and company contact information.

Prepare an Emissions Summary and Dispersion Modelling (ESDM) Report
The application must include a technical report, formally called an ESDM report, which calculates the off-site impact of air emission sources at a facility.  The ESDM report must show that contaminant impacts (concentrations) off-site are below the MOECC’s published standards, limits, and guidelines, if these criteria exist.  The impact of contaminants with no MOECC standard, limit, or guideline must also be included in a request for toxicological review included with the ECA application. The preparation of an ESDM report requires detailed knowledge about operating and production rates, materials & feedstock usage, physical source parameters (flow rates, exhaust temperatures), and site details (stack locations, building dimensions, property extents).  It also requires the calculation of a mass release rate for each source and contaminant, and the use of predictive computer models. O. Reg. 419/05, made under the EPA, contains the regulatory requirements for the methodologies and contents of an ESDM report.

Assess Noise Emissions
The application must also include an assessment of noise emissions which shows that the facility can meet the MOECC’s noise limits, contained in MOECC Noise Pollution Control (NPC) publications.  There are three ways that a facility may assess noise emissions. In order of increasing effort required, these are:

1.    Complete a Primary Noise Screening form;
2.    Prepare a Secondary Noise Screening Report; or,
3.    Prepare an Acoustic Assessment Report (AAR).

It is common to start the noise assessment process with the Primary Noise Screening process, and then move down the list if the method does not show compliance.  Completing the Primary Noise Screening form involves the completion of an electronic form based on typical information.  Preparing a Secondary Noise Screening report involves the use of facility specific and typical information and predicting noise impacts using simple engineering calculations. Finally, preparing an AAR requires the use of facility specific information, generally including on-site noise measurements, and often involves the use of computer models to predict noise impacts.

Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) Process
The Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR) is an MOECC maintained registry on which certain prescribed activities (sources) must be registered prior to installation, modification, or operation.  The requirement to register on the EASR is formalized in section 21.21 (1) of the EPA which states:

20.21  (1)  Subject to subsections (2), (3) and (4), no person shall engage in an activity at a site if the activity has been prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this subsection unless,

(a)    the person has registered the activity in the Registry in accordance with the regulations;
(b)    the Director has provided the person with a confirmation of registration in respect of the activity;
(c)    the person engages in the activity in accordance with the regulations; and
(d    the registration is not suspended and has not been removed from the Registry.

Currently, the following types of activities with air emissions may be subject to the EASR process, if they meet certain eligibility requirements:

•    Standby/emergency power generators;
•    Natural gas or propane comfort heating systems (HVAC units, etc…);
•    Automotive refinishing operations; and,
•    Commercial printing operations.

Additionally, as a permit-by-rule system, activities subject to the EASR process must ensure they meet the performance requirements set out in regulation.

What’s involved in Registering on the EASR?
Registering on the EASR is an online process carried out using the Ontario government’s Service Ontario website (http://www.ontario.ca/serviceontario).  Completing the process requires the creation of a Service Ontario ONe-Key account which must then be registered with the MOECC.  Once the registration forms have been submitted online, the MOECC will issue an electronic confirmation of registration, and activity can then proceed.

A typical EASR project involves the following tasks:

1.    Verify that the activity meets EASR eligibility requirements;
2.    Check that the activity meets the required performance requirements;
3.    Create a ONe-Key account and register it with the MOECC; and,
4.    Complete the registration forms and submit them to the MOECC online.

Verify EASR Eligibility
The first step in an EASR related project is to verify that the activity is, in fact, eligible for registration on the EASR.  For certain types of activities (for example, natural gas comfort heating), eligibility requirements are easily verified with a quick review of equipment specifications.  For other activities (like commercial printing operations), assessing eligibility requires the consideration of site-specific considerations such as setbacks from nearby noise receptors, and the composition and consumption rate of feed stock materials used.  If the activity is ineligible for registration on the EASR, it would require an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) instead.

Verify Conformance with Performance Requirements
Eligible activities must meet specified performance requirements. For example, standby power generators located in outdoors must be located in an enclosure with a specified noise rating, and must also meet engine emissions performance limits. If the activity does not meet these performance requirements, it must either be modified so that it does meet them, or a special order (called a “section 20.18 order”) must be obtained from the MOECC to allow the activity to follow the ECA process instead.

Create a ONe-Key Account and Register it with the MOECC
Once it has been determined that an activity is both eligible for the EASR and meets all performance requirements, it finally be registered online. In order to complete the registration process, a previously created ONe-Key account is required or a new one must be created on the Service Ontario Website.  This account then registered with the MOECC.  Completing this task requires the submission of administrative information including legal name, addresses, and contacts.

Complete and Submit MOECC Registration Forms
The registration forms can be accessed through a ONe-Key account once it has been registered with the MOECC.  The forms are filled in through a web browser and submitted online. Completing the forms requires information about the site address, confirmation that the activity is eligible for the EASR and meets all applicable performance requirements, and finally, digital sign-off (certification).