EPA Advisory Committee Report Advances Multipollutant Approach to Emissions Cuts

By Jessica Coomes  

WASHINGTON, D.C.—An Environmental Protection Agency advisory committee Nov. 17 endorsed a report that says the complex regulatory landscape makes it appropriate for the agency to advance a multipollutant, sector-based approach for emissions reductions.

The Clean Air Act Advisory Committee report also said EPA should expand its efforts on multipollutant strategies if they will provide health, environmental, and cost benefits—despite the challenges.

The multipollutant regulatory approach targets all of the pollution emitted by an industrial sector, such as power plants, industrial boilers, and petroleum refineries. The approach could target greenhouse gases, criteria pollutants, and hazardous air pollutants.

“In this complex era of air pollution control, optimal clean air investments could benefit from a consideration of many air quality goals,” the report said.

The committee voted unanimously to advance the report to EPA for consideration.

Trade-offs Should Be Identified

The report, which was prepared by a work group of the advisory committee, also recommended that EPA identify trade-offs with the approach.

Committee member Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, said during the Nov. 17 meeting that if EPA requires industry to lower the sulfur content of gasoline, for example, refining the product would take more energy, and that would increase greenhouse gases.

“Those are very real trade-offs,” he said.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said that in the gasoline example, any increases in greenhouse gas emissions could be addressed in a reasonable way.

‘Complexity Is Very Daunting'

The report acknowledged that the Clean Air Act sets varying regulatory timelines for promulgating and revising standards, including standards for air toxics and criteria pollutants. A multipollutant approach that aligns with regulatory timing could optimize a sector's investments in pollution controls, it said.

“Lack of coordination among regulatory programs can result in situations where facilities must invest in one control system to satisfy one requirement and then turn around a few years later to invest in a different (and potentially incompatible) control technology to meet the requirements of a regulation addressing a different pollutant in the same process area,” it said.

However, the report identified challenges, including the workload for agencies, which could make it difficult to develop multiple rules simultaneously. The report also said agencies may not have the flexibility to adjust statutory or legal deadlines.

For refinery rules, Feldman said there are positive aspects to developing a multipollutant approach that includes areas such as new source performance standards and emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants.

Avoid Too Many Rules at Once

However, if too many regulations are released at once, the public may not be able to comment on all of them, he said.

“The complexity is very daunting,” Feldman said. “That is the downside.”

During a committee discussion of the multipollutant approach, John Walke, director of the clean air program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, cautioned that he had seen EPA previously launch initiatives that ended up being time-consuming for the agency.

With that in mind, he said he anticipates EPA's budget will shrink, and he pointed out the agency already is years behind schedule in carrying out some provisions of the Clean Air Act.