Year ends with sweeping boiler standards
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December 26, 2012
Year ends with sweeping boiler standards

EPA’s “adjustments” to Clean Air Act rules affecting boilers and certain incinerators arrived with fewer of the very costly requirements feared by industry.  Environmental groups also see benefits in the adjustment rules, but were less than pleased with the generous compliance deadlines for affected businesses, particularly cement manufacturers.  The fact that neither side is either fully condemning or endorsing the actions may give the rules a better chance of being implemented without court challenges.  But the adjustment rules are lengthy and complex, and any judicial actions by stakeholders on either side of the debate will likely follow a lengthy period of analyses of their direct and indirect impacts.

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Revise 2011 actions

The rules adjust the final standards the Agency issued in March 2011 to control emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from boilers located at both major and small (area) sources of HAPs.  According to the Agency, there are more than 1.5 million boilers in the United States. Major source boilers are located at refineries, chemical plants, and other large industrial facilities.  Area source boilers are typically found in hospitals, universities, and hotels and other commercial buildings. 

Under the rules, numerical HAP limitations–those that traditionally are the most difficult to comply with–will apply to about 1,700 major sources of HAP emissions out of about 14,000 major sources covered by the regulations.  Among area sources covered, about 1 percent will also be subject to numerical limits.  Whether a boiler is covered by the rules is generally based on the type of fuel it burns.  The EPA states that the standards will not apply to area source boilers that combust natural gas.  Major sources that burn natural gas will be required to meet management standards (e.g., periodic tune-ups) rather than numeric standards. 

Incinerators

The rules also more clearly delineate boilers and commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators (CISWI), a category that includes waste burning cement kilns.  This part of the action–called the non-hazardous secondary materials (NHSM) rule–provides the Agency’s understanding of which nonhazardous secondary materials are solid wastes when burned in a combustion unit and which are not.  The difference is critical because any unit that burns a waste is by law an incinerator and therefore subject to more stringent requirements than boilers.

The EPA states that adjustments to the 2011 rule were needed after it received a flood of petitions, including much new data, after the rule was issued.  The EPA concedes that these data were helpful in giving the Agency a better picture of the “real-world” conditions in which boilers operate, including the “diverse and complex” range of boiler uses and fuels.  Accordingly, the adjustments include a list of subcategories of boilers that the EPA uses as a basis to provide the “right standards for the right boilers.”

“Clean” natural gas

Subcategorization is one aspect of the adjustment rulemaking appreciated by some in industry.  Other elements cited positively by industry include revised emissions limits, allowing the use of work practice standards for certain pollutants, and providing more flexibility for units burning clean gases.

The adjustments both raise and lower limits set in the 2011 action.  For example, the limits for mercury, hydrogen chloride, and sulfur dioxide were raised, while the limits for nonmercury metals and particulate matter were lowered. 

Deadlines

Existing major source boilers will have until early 2016 to comply with the numerical limits; they may also qualify for a 1-year extension.  Existing area sources will have until March 2014 to comply, and they may also request an additional year.  Existing CISWIs must comply by 2018, but new units will be held to the standards upon start-up. 

 The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the standards will save thousands of lives every year.  But the NRDC, along with other public advocacy groups, believes the EPA caved in to industry by loosening the deadlines for waste burning cement kilns.  Specifically, in contrast to the 2011 action, these facilities will be provided with an additional 2 years to comply with emissions limits.  Environmental groups have taken up the cause of communities living near waste burning kilns, which they claim have suffered unfairly because of hazardous air emissions.   

“By the agency's own calculations, the delay alone will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 avoidable deaths and 3,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 34,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 260,000 days when people have to miss work because cement plants’ soot pollution has made them sick,” stated Earthjustice in response to the adjustment rules.

Costs

At the other end of the spectrum, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found nothing positive to say about the adjustment rules, at least in its initial statement.  “We appreciate the EPA’s efforts to engage with us and to modify the rule to make it more achievable,” stated NAM.  “Unfortunately, this regulation remains far from being realistic. Currently, it is 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in the United States compared to our major trading partners, and boiler [regulations] will only drive that differential higher. An improved version of a bad regulation is still a bad regulation.”

NAM refers to “studies” that indicate that compliance with the boiler portion of the rule will cost manufacturers up to $14 billion.  But according to the EPA, the standards will result in 8,100 premature deaths avoided.  “Americans will receive $23 to $29 in health benefits for every dollar spent to meet the final standards,” states the Agency.  “In addition, EPA’s analysis shows a small net increase in jobs.”

Click here for the final standards.

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