Final Boiler, Incinerator Rules Cut Compliance Costs in Initial Proposals

EPA says it is proposing "sensible standards" that will provide significant public health benefits while cutting costs by nearly 50 percent; the agency is offering these standards for additional public review and comment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued final Clean Air Act (CAA) standards for boilers and certain incinerators that reduce toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, but cut the cost of implementation by about 50 percent (or $1.8 billion) from an earlier proposal issued last year. This action is in response to federal court orders, according to an EPA press release.

Mercury, soot, lead, and other harmful 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. EPA said these standards will avoid between 2,600-6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014.

In April 2010, EPA issued proposed rules in response to a September 2009 court order, prompting significant public input. The 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 public input received following the April 2010 proposal, the agency 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.

Based on input from key stakeholders including the public, industry, and public health communities, the final standards represent "a dramatic cut in the cost of implementation, while maintaining maximum public health benefits," an EPA press release states. As a result, the agency estimates that for every dollar spent to cut these pollutants, the public will see between $10 and $24 in health benefits, including fewer premature deaths.

The agency received more than 4,800 comments from businesses and communities. Public input included a significant amount of information that industry had not provided prior to the proposal. Based on this feedback and in keeping with President Obama’s executive order on regulatory review, EPA revised the draft standards based on the requested input to provide additional flexibility and cost-effective techniques.

Because the final standards significantly differ from the proposals, The agency said it believes further public review is required and will reconsider the final standards under a CAA process that allows the agency to seek additional public review and comment to ensure full transparency. EPA’s reconsideration will cover the emissions standards for large and small boilers and for solid waste incinerators. The agency will release additional details on the reconsideration process in the near future to ensure the public, industry, and stakeholders have an opportunity to participate.

About 200,000 boilers are located at small and large sources of air toxic emissions across the country. The final standards require many types of boilers to follow practical, cost-effective work practice standards to reduce emissions. To ensure smooth implementation, EPA is working with the departments of energy (DOE) and agriculture (USDA) to provide the diverse set of facilities impacted by the standards with technical assistance that will help boilers burn cleaner and more efficiently. DOE 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. USDA will reach out to small sources to help owners and operators understand the standards and their cost and energy saving features.

The types of boilers and incinerators covered by these 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 (pdf) will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, organic air toxics, and dioxins at some of the largest pollution sources. EPA estimates that the costs of implementation have been reduced by $1.5 billion from the proposed standard. Health benefits to children and the public associated with reduced exposure to fine particles and ozone from these large source boilers are estimated to be $22 billion to $54 billion in 2014.
  • Boilers located at small sources of air toxics emissions: There are about 187,000 boilers located at small sources of air pollutants, including universities, hospitals, hotels, and commercial buildings that may be covered by these standards (pdf). Due to the small amount of emissions these sources are responsible for, EPA has limited the impact of the final rulemaking on small entities. The original standards for these have been dramatically refined and updated to ensure maximum flexibility for these sources, including for some sources, revising the requirement from maximum achievable control technology to generally available control technology. The cost reduction from the proposed standard to the final is estimated to be $209 million.
  • 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, (pdf) which facilities will need to meet by 2016 at the latest, will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, nitrogen dioxide, and particle pollution. The cost reduction from the proposed standard to the final is estimated to be $12 million.

In separate but related actions, EPA is finalizing emission standards for sewage sludge incinerators (pdf). While there are more than 200 sewage sludge incinerators across the country, the agency said it expects that more than 150 are already in compliance. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, and hydrogen chloride from the remaining 50 that may need to leverage existing technologies to meet the new standards.

EPA has identified which non-hazardous secondary materials are considered solid waste when burned in combustion units. This distinction determines which CAA standard is applied when the material is burned. The non-hazardous secondary materials that can be burned as non-waste fuel include scrap tires managed under established tire collection programs. This step simplifies the rules and provides additional clarity and direction for facilities. To determine that materials are non-hazardous secondary materials when burned under the final rule, materials must not have been discarded and must be legitimately used as a fuel.

The emissions standards for sewage sludge incinerators and the definition of solid waste are not part of this reconsideration.

Source: EPA