EPA Finalizes Rules for Boilers, Incinerators But Will Reconsider for Additional Revisions

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Final emissions standards for industrial boilers and incinerators released Feb. 23 are designed to achieve the same level of health protection at half the compliance costs originally proposed, but additional revisions to the rules are planned, Environmental Protection Agency officials said.

EPA now estimates complying with the emissions limits will cost regulated industries $1.8 billion annually rather than the $3.6 billion it had estimated when the rules were proposed in 2010.

The costs savings are largely a result of revisions to the emissions standards EPA had proposed for the largest categories of industrial boilers, Gina McCarthy, EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, told reporters during a telephone news conference.

“EPA revised the draft standards and found we could reduce emissions at a lower cost and found we could still achieve the health benefits required under the Clean Air Act,” she said.

That comes as industry groups and some members of Congress had been criticizing the rules as too expensive and for eliminating too many jobs.

The final rules, which will be published in the Federal Register, revise the new source performance standards for commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators and sewage sludge incinerators at 40 C.F.R. Part 60, as well as establish national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for both area source and major source industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters at 40 C.F.R. Part 63.

Major sources are those that emit 10 tons per year or more of any single hazardous air pollutant or 25 tons per year or more of any combination of toxic pollutants. Facilities that emit less are area sources and subject to less stringent emissions standards.

Benefits Totaling $22 Billion to $54 Billion.

The four air rules are expected to provide between $22 billion and $54 billion in annual health benefits, preventing an estimated 2,500 to 6,600 premature deaths per year beginning in 2014.

Although EPA is finalizing the rules, it also released a notice of reconsideration. EPA will reconsider additional subcategories for large industrial boilers, establishing work practice standards for major source boilers that have limited use, limits on fuel-switching for industrial incinerators, revisions to the carbon monoxide monitoring requirements for both incinerators and boilers, and setting particulate matter emissions limits under less stringent generally available control technology standards for small oil-fired boilers.

EPA is not reconsidering the sewage sludge incinerator performance standards.

EPA had been under a court-ordered deadline to sign the rules by Feb. 21 (Sierra Club v. Jackson, D.D.C., No. 01-1537, 1/20/11; 42 ER 149, 1/28/11).

Along with the four Clean Air Act rules, EPA also released a final rule that defines which materials are considered solid waste when burned and subject to emissions standards for incinerators under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act and which are considered fuel and subject to less stringent boiler standards under Section 112 of the act. In the final rule, the agency expanded the range of materials to be characterized as fuel instead of waste to include whole scrap tires, resinated wood residuals transferred off-site, and abandoned coal refuse. The materials had been labeled as solid wastes in the proposed rule. (See related article in this issue.)

Emissions Limits for 15 Subcategories.

The final rule sets numeric emissions limits for mercury, dioxins, particulate matter, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide for 15 different subcategories of major source boilers and process heaters. The rule requires the largest boilers and process heaters to continuously monitor emissions of particulate matter as a surrogate for toxic metals such as lead and chromium, as well as monitor oxygen to ensure clean combustion.

According to EPA, there are 13,840 existing major source boilers and process heaters in the United States, with another 47 new units anticipated to be built in the next three years.

Since the rule was proposed, EPA combined the biomass and coal subcategories into a single, solid-fuel category, which will allow those units to better tailor pollution controls to their individual emissions, McCarthy said.

In another revision, EPA will require new and existing boilers and process heaters that burn natural gas and refinery gas to perform annual maintenance rather than meet numeric emissions limits. Units that burn other gases can also qualify for the work practices if they can demonstrate their fuel has contaminant levels similar to natural gas.

EPA proposed the major source and area source boiler standards in June 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 32,006, 75 Fed. Reg. 31,896; 41 ER 973, 5/7/10).

EPA Sets Work Practices for Small Boilers.

The final rule for area source boilers will require many of the facilities to perform required maintenance rather than meeting numeric emissions limits.

EPA's final area source rule for boilers requires new coal-fired units with a heat input of 10 million Btus per hour or more to meet numeric emissions limits for mercury, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide. Existing units will have emissions limits for mercury and carbon monoxide.

New units with a heat input of 10 million Btus per hour or more that burn biomass or oil are required to meet emissions limits for particulate matter. Existing units will be required to employ work practices, including maintenance every two years.

Boilers with a heat input of less than 10 million Btus per hour will be required to perform routine maintenance every two years in lieu of numeric emissions limits.

Most Industrial Incinerators Need Controls.

The performance standards for industrial and sewage sludge incinerators set numeric emissions limits for four categories of commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators, including incinerators, energy recovery units, waste-burning kilns, and small incinerators in very remote locations. The units will be required to control emissions of mercury, lead, cadmium, hydrogen chloride, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dioxins and furans, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide.

EPA estimates 85 out of the 88 incinerators currently in operation will be required to control their emissions. The units will need to comply with the emissions limits three years after EPA approves state plans to implement the standards or by Feb. 21, 2016, whichever is later.

EPA proposed revisions to the industrial incinerator performance standards in June 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 31,938; 41 ER 975, 5/7/10).

The final performance standards for sewage sludge incinerators set emissions limits for two categories: multiple-hearth units and fluidized bed units.

Of the 204 sewage sludge incinerators in operation, EPA estimates 155 are currently meeting the standards.

EPA proposed revisions to the sewage sludge incinerator performance standards in October 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 63,260; 41 ER 2238, 10/8/10).

Rules Praised, but Concerns Linger.

Environmental advocates praised the rules for their estimated health benefits.

“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,” S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in a statement.

Industry groups said EPA's final rules were less onerous than had been proposed, but some still worried the standards might not be achievable by boilers and incinerators currently in operation.

Robert Bessette, president of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, told BNA he still has concerns with some of the emissions standards for coal-fired boilers.

“There's a good chance it's achievable for gas, oil, and biofuel,” he said. “I don't believe it's achievable for coal-fired units, period. When I look at the jobs impact, the coal-fired is the biggest part.”

A September 2010 report sponsored by the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners estimated EPA's rules, as proposed, could eliminate 337,703 jobs, much more than the agency had estimated.

Howard Feldman, director of science and regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said he is pleased to see expanded use of work practices for smaller units. “We continue to believe that this is the appropriate control measure for all low-emitting gas-fired units,” he said in a statement.

By Andrew Childers and Avery Fellow