States Largely Granting Power Plant Requests For One-Year Mercury Compliance Extensions

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By Jessica Coomes  

States largely are granting requests from power plants for one-year extensions to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury and air toxics standards, according to a survey by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA).

The association identified 51 power plants that asked state and local air pollution agencies for compliance extensions, and 48 requests were granted. One request is under consideration, another was withdrawn by the company, and another was returned for additional information.

NACAA received responses to its survey from 41 state and local agencies in 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Because not all states are included in the data, the survey, which was posted online June 27, is meant to be a snapshot of how implementation is proceeding on the mercury rule, Bill Becker, the association's executive director, told BNA June 28.

“For those that have found it necessary to obtain additional time, almost without exception they've received it from their permitting authority,” Becker said. “It shows the rules that EPA has set out are technologically feasible, and the compliance path that has been laid out is working very well.”

EPA told BNA June 28 the mercury rule's implementation has been smooth so far.

“EPA is working closely with stakeholders to make sure that emissions reductions are achieved while grid stability is maintained,” the agency said in a statement. “We have engaged in outreach to states, tribes, and permitting authorities to help ensure that the fourth year for compliance is broadly available.”

Responses From Texas, Ohio.

Texas, which was not surveyed because it is not a NACAA member, told BNA June 28 it has received four compliance extension requests. The state granted one request and intends to grant the other three within the month.

Ohio, which also was not surveyed, told BNA June 28 it has not received any requests.

EPA finalized stringent mercury and air toxics standards for coal- and oil-fired power plants Feb. 16, 2012. The rule, which EPA estimated would cost the power industry $9.6 billion annually, is requiring some utilities to make significant investments in pollution controls (42 ER 2877, 12/23/11).

The final rule, which established national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants, set a three-year compliance deadline of April 2015 for companies to install pollution controls.

The Clean Air Act allows industry to request one-year extensions on a case-by-case basis from local permitting authorities, which would give utilities until April 2016 to comply.

Liberal Use Was Anticipated.

When EPA released the mercury utility rule, Lisa Jackson, who was the agency's administrator at the time, said she would tell states to make “very liberal use of the fourth year for companies putting on controls.”

Becker said the NACAA survey indicates that implementation is proceeding as EPA intended.

Most of the states in NACAA's survey received and granted fewer than four requests each. Exceptions are Michigan, which received and granted 13 compliance extensions, and Missouri, which received and granted nine extensions.

EPA has anticipated that most power plants would be in compliance after three or four years, but when it released the final mercury standards, it announced that it would allow utilities that are needed to ensure electricity reliability to have a fifth year to install controls through an enforcement process under Section 113 of the Clean Air Act.

EPA told BNA June 28 that it had not received any requests for a fifth year.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies survey on compliance extension requests for EPA's mercury and air toxics standards is available at  

Copyright 2013, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.