EPA’s New Boiler Emissions Standards Halve Implementation Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, February 24, 2011 (ENS) – In response to federal court orders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is issuing final Clean Air Act standards that reduce toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, from boilers and two types of waste incinerators.

The new standards, made public Wednesday, cut the overall cost of implementation by about 50 percent, or $1.8 billion, from an earlier draft proposal issued last year, said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

“The Clean Air Act standards we are issuing today are based on the best available science and have benefitted from significant public input,” said McCarthy. “As a result, they put in place important public health safeguards to cut harmful toxic air emissions that affect children’s development, aggravate asthma and cause heart attacks at costs substantially lower than we had estimated under our original proposal.”

Exhaust from boilers powering a petroleum refinery in Sarnia, Ontario as viewed from Port Huron, Michigan (Photo by Lawrence G. Sobczak)

Mercury, soot, lead and other pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to developmental disabilities in children, as well as cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death in Americans, McCarthy told reporters on a teleconference.

These standards will avoid between 2,600 to 6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014, McCarthy said.

Based on the final standards, EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to cut these pollutants, the public will see between $10 to $24 in health benefits, including fewer premature deaths.

About 200,000 boilers are located at small and large sources of air toxic emissions across the country.

Responding to a September 2009 court order, EPA proposed boiler rules in April 2010. These proposed rules followed a period that began in 2007, when a federal court vacated a set of industry specific standards proposed during the Bush administration.

Based on the more than 4,800 comments from businesses and communities on the April 2010 proposal, EPA made extensive revisions, and in December 2010 requested additional time for review to ensure the public’s input was fully addressed. The court granted EPA 30 days, resulting in the agency’s February 23 announcement.

McCarthy said this public input included a significant amount of information that industry had not provided prior to the proposal, resulting in revisions to allow additional flexibility and cost effective techniques.

Because the final standards significantly differ from the proposals, EPA believes further public review is required.

The new standards will be effective no sooner than 2014, said McCarthy. “Stakeholders can, and we are sure they will, petition EPA to reconsider these standards.”

A Clean Air Act process allows the agency to seek additional public review and comment to ensure full transparency. EPA will release details on the reconsideration process in the near future to ensure the public, industry and stakeholders can participate.

Air pollution control agencies in 51 states and territories and more than 165 major metropolitan areas are pleased with the new standards, said Bill Becker executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

“NACAA is pleased that EPA has issued its long-awaited rules that will reduce mercury, benzene, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants from thousands of industrial facilities across the country,” Becker said. “The benefits are huge and far outweigh the costs, avoiding each year up to 6,500 premature deaths, 41,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 78,000 cases of respiratory symptoms. At the same time, this rule is expected to generate over 2,000 new jobs.”

“While EPA has made a number of concessions to address industrial stakeholders’ concerns, the agency has rightly stopped short of including illegal and inappropriate ‘health-based exemptions,'” Becker said.

W. Randall Rawson, president and chief executive of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, has said his organization “wants the U.S. EPA to get it right. Those ultimately affected by these standards will be using our equipment, products and services to comply with whatever is finalized,” he said, “so we want these EPA standards to be achievable and effective.”

Rawson said his members want to see the standards finalized as quickly as possible. “Regulatory delay only heightens market uncertainty and increases ultimate costs,” he said. “As a source of new manufacturing jobs in this and other industries, rules delayed are also jobs delayed.”

The types of boilers and incinerators covered by the updated standards include:

  • Boilers at large sources of air toxics emissions: There are about 13,800 boilers located at large sources of air pollutants, including refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, organic air toxics and dioxins at some of the largest pollution sources.
  • Boilers located at small sources of air toxics emissions: There are about 187,000 boilers located at universities, hospitals, hotels, churches and commercial buildings that may be covered by these standards. EPA has revised the requirement covering these sources from maximum achievable control technology to generally available control technology. They will now be required to perform tuneups every two years. Burning natural gas and other gases as clean complies with the new standard, McCarthy said.
  • Solid waste incinerators: There are 88 solid waste incinerators that burn waste at a commercial or an industrial facility, including cement manufacturing facilities. These standards, which facilities will need to meet by 2016 at the latest, still require adherance to standards for nine pollutants such as mercury, lead, cadmium, nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution.
  • Sewage sludge incinerators: In separate but related actions, EPA is finalizing emission standards for sewage sludge incinerators. While there are more than 200 sewage sludge incinerators across the country, over 150 are already in compliance. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, and hydrogen chloride from the remaining 50.

McCarthy said the Department of Energy will work with large coal and oil-burning sources to help them identify clean energy strategies that will reduce harmful emissions and make boilers run more efficiently and cost-effectively.

In addition, she explained, the Department of Agriculture will help owners and operators of small sources to understand the standards and their cost and energy saving features.

Click here for more information on the new boiler and incinerator standards.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.