EPA Final Toxics Rule for Boilers Fails to Appease Industry

Date: February 25, 2011

Source: News Room

As mandated by court-appointed deadline, the EPA released its final standards targeting toxic emissions from industrial boilers and incinerators. The agency says that its final package of rules will cut compliance costs by half ($1.8 billion compared to the proposed rules) but still save thousands of lives and significantly improve public health. Among the changes EPA made to the boiler rule is granting industry's request for "sub-categorization" creating differing emission limits for some types of boilers. But the agency is not granting, nor reconsidering, its decision not to grant industry's request for a controversial health-based standard that could exempt some units from the rule.

Environmental groups are likely to respond to the 11th-hour changes in the final boiler maximum achievable control technology (MACT) air toxics rule released Feb. 23. The rule is one of several released as part of a broad suite of regulations addressing combustion sources that also includes a new source performance standard (NSPS) to cut criteria pollutants from sewage sludge incinerators, and a rule that defines solid waste to determine whether sources are subject to boiler rules or more-stringent incinerator rules. Industry has been arguing that the proposed MACT for "major" industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters are unachievable and will lead to tens of thousands of job losses at a time when the economy can least afford it. Industry groups submitted new data on boiler emissions and met with EPA and White House officials numerous times to argue their case for more lenient rules.

But, EPA faced a court-ordered Jan. 21 deadline to issue the rule in response to a nearly decade old lawsuit brought by environmentalists against the agency. Despite its petition to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a 15-month extension to consider the new data, it was granted only another 30 days. As a consequence to the many differences from the proposed rule and the more than 4,800 public comments, the agency has said it wants to reconsider its final standards immediately. However, industry argues that the changes do not go far enough and are hinting that the reconsideration also may not quell their concerns.

For example, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) says the boiler MACT rule is an example of EPA overreach, calling it "harsh, inflexible rule that will cost jobs, hurt global competitiveness and may discourage projects that could otherwise lead to environmental improvements." Donna Harman, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), calls the MACT rules an improvement from last year but says they "fall short of what is ultimately needed to support jobs and the economy."

A number of lawmakers are also mounting an offensive. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has been building support for a bill to block the MACT rule. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and power subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) said in a Feb. 23 statement that "If congressional intervention is needed to provide EPA the time it needs to provide careful, defensible rules that will not invite additional judicial challenge, the Committee on Energy and Commerce is prepared to act."

The major changes to the rule include a new solid-fuel boiler subcategory for biomass- and coal-fired boilers, higher carbon monoxide limits for biomass boilers, work practice standards for startups and shutdowns at biomass boilers, achievable standards set on a pollutant-by-pollutant basis, and tune-ups instead of emission limits for boilers that use natural gas or other gas fuels with similar pollutant levels. EPA said it would soon issue a notice to reconsider and take comment on portions of the rule that changed significantly, but is not planning on reconsidering the solid waste rule or sewage sludge incinerator standards.

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