Cleaner air at a reasonable price—that’s the goal behind the latest round of changes in emission standards for the nation’s most polluting industrial boilers and incinerators.
After considering recent input from lawmakers, environmental groups, and industries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week announced another set of changes to its industrial boiler rules. Officials say the new amendments strike a balance between improved air quality and cost effectiveness.
In a Dec. 2 conference call to reporters, Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation explained that the proposed reconsideration would still significantly reduce toxic air pollutants, including mercury and soot, but also address compliance concerns raised by industry and labor groups.
“This rule will help protect the health of millions of Americans,” McCarthy said. “It hits the sweet spot of being affordable, practical regulation that provides long overdue health benefits that Americans deserve.”
The proposed amendments would save about $1.5 billion or nearly 50 percent from the original 2010 proposed rule while still managing to provide similar health benefits, according to EPA figures.
“These changes will help to establish a pathway to a strong biomass industry while still ensuring that we are moving toward cleaner technologies,” said McCarthy.
Only a tiny fraction of U.S. boilers—found at refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities—will be affected by the new air quality rules. But officials have struggled to create regulations that can meet Clean Air Act emission standards at a cost that the industry can live with.
McCarthy noted that even the EPA recognized that its initial boiler rules were “flawed,” but earlier versions of the updated standards had been of particular concern to industry leaders. In September 2011, the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners stated that the EPA rule was still “not achievable,” and could potentially threaten more than 230,000 existing jobs.
The agency states that its most recent set of changes will make compliance easier for industries by creating standards that they say better reflect the different types of boiler technologies. The changes would provide more flexible compliance options, and favor work practice standards over numeric emissions limits.
Environmentalists concede that the new changes will still significantly improve air quality and lessen health problems linked to environmental contaminants, but James Pew, an attorney for Earthjustice, cautions further industry influence to weaken emission rules for boilers and incinerators.
“With this reproposal, we hope industry will abandon its effort in Congress to kill these standards entirely and instead let the EPA begin the important job of improving air quality,” said Pew.
The EPA plans to finalize the new proposal in spring 2012, with a projected compliance deadline for boilers in 2014, and incinerators in 2016.