In one of the costliest rules in its history, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the first nationwide caps on mercury and other pollutants from industrial boilers while bowing to industry demands to give companies more time to comply.
The boiler rule was among a handful of final regulations issued by the agency today. Taken together, the rules will cost companies more than $2 billion annually to comply, a burden industry groups say is unwelcome given the slow pace of the economic recovery.
Environmental groups complained that the agency was bowing too far to pressure from lawmakers and business groups, and that the deadline extensions would lead to more asthma attacks and premature deaths.
The “delay is completely unnecessary, especially given that the changes to the emission standards are relatively small,” James Pew, an attorney at Earthjustice in Washington, said in an e-mail. Pew brought the court cases that helped spur the agency to issue the rules.
The compliance deadline on boilers, which are used in refineries, chemical plants and paper mills, were extended to three years from now, with the option to request an additional year.
Just about every paper plant, manufacturer, hospital and university runs a boiler, and they largely have been exempt from the kinds of tight controls on mercury, acid gases and particulate matter that the EPA already has issued for coal-fired power plants. The final boiler rule alone was estimated by the EPA to cost industry $1.6 billion a year.
Last week the EPA issued nationwide standards for soot.
“For the second straight week, the EPA has finalized another costly and crippling regulation at a time when our economy is on the brink,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement. The Washington-based group represents companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and General Electric Co.
Boiler users had asked the EPA to further tweak the controls it proposed last year, and the agency both eased off on some standards and tightened others. For example, more sulfur dioxide and mercury will be required to be eliminated from boiler exhaust; less non-mercury metals and particulate matter will be cut.
“These adjustments have retained the significant health benefits and resulted in rules that are simpler to implement,” the agency said in a fact-sheet explaining the rules.
In a separate rule released today, the EPA established new caps on mercury and acid gases released from the smokestacks of cement plants operating by companies such as Paris-based Lafarge SA. Cement makers must meet the emissions caps by September 2015, two years later than originally proposed.
The EPA today also defined solid waste burned in boilers, an issue that was being watched closely by both industry and environmental advocates. Paper producers, for example, use excess pulp, old tires and railroad ties to fuel their boilers, and they asked the EPA to not categorize those items as waste, which would subject the boilers to the stricter pollution controls applied to incinerators.
The Washington-based American Forest & Paper Association, which represents companies including Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific LLC and Boise Inc., which has its headquarters in Boise, Idaho, complimented the EPA for its process in developing the rule.
“Throughout this process, we maintained an open and healthy dialogue with EPA and provided extensive data and comments in the hope that rules would be developed that are achievable and affordable for our industry,” Donna Harman, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The cost of the regulations issued today fall short of one the agency issued last year on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. That rule was estimated to cost $9.6 billion annually.