In April 2010, after three years of delayed litigation, the EPA released its proposed Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rules that would govern emission standards for commercial, institutional and industrial boilers, solid-waste incinerators, and furnaces.
The rules, long-awaited by environmental groups and clean-air industries alike, aimed to make significant cuts to emissions of hazardous air pollutants (“HAP”s) like mercury, dioxin, soot, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide.
The proposed rules received over 4,800 comments over the 45 days they were open in the Federal Register, and with pressure from both sides of the issue, the EPA requested an extension to finish drafting the final rules in January 2011. District Judge Paul Friedman denied the agency its requested 15 month extension and gave a 30 day window for the agency to comply, and the final rules were submitted on February 23, 2011.
The EPA estimates that the final rules cut the cost of compliance by a significant 50%, with the figure associated with implementing the rule estimated at $1.8 billion, as opposed to the $3.6 billion figure associated with the proposed rules.
The most significant difference between the proposed and final rules was that biomass boilers were changed to be included with coal boilers in one single solid-fuel category, which eased considerably the standards for biomass boilers emitting less than 25 tons of combined toxins annually.
Response to the final rules has been divided by party and agency lines, with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) claiming that they were issued hastily and under pressure of court-ordered deadline. The Council of Industrial Boiler Owners has stated that the rules are too costly, and that adhering to their standards could cause many facilities to shut down, estimating a potential 300,000 jobs lost as a cost.
The EPA, on the other hand, is optimistic about its rules and estimates it could create as many as 2,200 new jobs. Likeminded environmentalist organization the NRDC estimates that the new emission standards could save 6,500 lives and prevent 46,000 cases of asthma and bronchitis annually. As the back and forth continues, the EPA has encouraged companies and agencies to offer their feedback on the rules, as their opponents, such as Upton, prepare to combat them.