To help ensure States and Tribes meet air quality standards, Federal agencies operating within their boundaries must not engage in activities that could put the meeting of these standards at risk in federal non-attainment areas. Specifically, the General Conformity Rule is in place to prevent air quality impacts of federal actions from causing or contributing to violations of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) or interfering with the purpose of a State, Tribe or Federal Implementation Plans (SIP,TIP, or FIP).
The Clean Air Act section 176(C) (1) states that "No department, agency, or instrumentality of the Federal Government shall engage, support in any way or provide financial assistance for, license or permit, or approve any activity which does not conform to an implementation plan (SIP)". Besides ensuring Federal actions are in conformance with these plans, the Rule encourages consultation between federal agencies and the State, Tribal, and local air pollution control agencies before and after an environmental review process. The interaction below outlines the three steps of determining general conformity: applicability analysis, conformity determination, and the review process.
Three Steps in Determining General Conformity
For agencies engaged in prescribed burning within nonattainment areas, prescribed fires conducted in accordance with a smoke management program which meets the requirements of EPA's Interim Air Quality Policy on Wildland and Prescribed Fires or an equivalent replacement EPA policy are presumed to conform. The EPA recognizes that prescribed fires employing basic smoke management practices (BSMPs) may also be able to meet this presumption of conformity if such a presumption is established by an agency following the requirements laid out in Section 93.153(g) of the rule, or by a State following the requirements of Section 51.851(f). These sections require a formal public review of any proposed BSMPs before they are presumed to conform. We will describe basic smoke management practices and smoke management programs in Module 3.
For agencies involved in wildfire response, the EPA identified wildfire response as an example of an emergency event that may be exempt from General Conformity requirements under 93.153(d)(2) and (e) if that agency determines it fits within the definition of emergency found in 93.152. A federal action in response to an emergency (e.g. wildfire) will have a 6 month exemption to conduct conformity determination that can be extended up to 3 more times with public notification. Wildfires fitting the definition of emergency may be declared exempt from conformity determination.
For more information on Rule see the 1993 Rule (PDF), 2010 Revisions (PDF), and the following EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/general-conformity
US EPA. 2016. General Conformity. Accessed 19 May 2016. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/general-conformity
US EPA. 2010. Revisions to the General Conformity Regulations; Final Rule. Accessed 19 May 2016. Available at: https://www.frames.gov/catalog/20221
US EPA. 1993. Determining Conformity of General Federal Actions to State or Federal Implementation Plans; Final Rule. Accessed on 19 May 2016. Available at: https://www.frames.gov/catalog/20220