Boiler MACT Rule on Hold

Issue 9 and Volume 116.

Header installation on a supercritical coal-fired boiler at a power station in the southern U.S. Photo courtesy of Babcock & Wilcox Co.
Header installation on a supercritical coal-fired boiler at a power station in the southern U.S. Photo courtesy of Babcock & Wilcox Co.

Boiler manufacturers question the delay and urge the White House to release the rule back to the EPA for publication.

By Russell Ray, Managing Editor

U.S. boiler manufacturers and operators have been waiting nearly a decade for the federal government to give the industry clear guidance on what they must do to meet stricter emission standards for toxic air pollutants.

It appears the wait will continue.

The industry was expecting the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule in late June. Industry officials now say the new standards probably won’t be unveiled until November or December. The EPA’s revised Boiler MACT rule remains under review by the Office of Budget Management’s regulatory affairs division. A final rule won’t be issued until OBM officials complete their review.

In a recent letter to President Obama, Randy Rawson, president and CEO of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, urged the administration to release the finalized rule back to the EPA for publication in the Federal Register. Rawson attributed the delay to “White House political concerns over the ‘job killer’ label disingenuously attached to the rules by opposition special interests and their Congressional followers.”

Further delay will only jeopardize timely compliance and increase costs, Rawson wrote. U.S. boiler manufacturers have long been ready to help boiler operators and owners affected by the rule comply in a timely and affordable manner, Rawson said.

“Once it does hit the street, they’re going to be looking for answers,” Rawson said during ABMA’s summer meeting in June. “From what we hear, they’re already looking for answers because they know that ultimately it will become reality.”

The final rule will almost certainly be challenged in court by certain subsets of regulated entities, Rawson wrote. However, that shouldn’t be used as a reason to suspend “the mission to generate new, meaningful engineering, skilled and unskilled jobs and a healthier environment… We can only hope that OMB is doing more toward achieving compromise and consensus than just sitting on its hands for political purposes.”

The rule establishes National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for industrial, commercial and Institutional boilers. It will require the owners and operators to install Maximum Achievable Control Technologies such as scrubbers and activated-carbon-sorbent injection systems. The rule establishes stricter limits on the following hazardous air pollutants (HAPs): Mercury, particulate matter, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide.

The rule applies to major sources of HAPs. That means any stationary source that can potentially emit 10 or more tons a year of any single pollutant or 25 tons or more a year of any combination of pollutants must comply with the rule.

The emission limits apply only to the boiler or process heaters of a major source of HAPs.

For major sources of HAPs, new and existing gas-fired boilers will be required to meet new work practice standards and perform an annual boiler tune-up.

New and existing boilers with a heat input capacity of less than 10 MMBtu per hour will be subject to a work practice standard and required to perform a biennial boiler tune-up. All other new and existing boilers and process heaters will be required to meet new emission limits and perform compliance monitoring.

Under the rule, large, existing coal-fired boilers must meet mercury, carbon monoxide and particulate emission limits.

The Boiler MACT rule was finalized in May 2011, but the EPA quickly delayed implementation and began reconsidering the rule after boiler owners denounced it, claiming the provisions were excessive, impractical and too costly. The EPA issued a revised rule in December 2011 that was more flexible and 50 percent less costly. The revised measure was on course to being finalized last spring.

But in January 2012, a federal judge negated the EPA’s “stay” of the original rule, stating the agency’s decision to delay implementation was “arbitrary and capricious.” Environmental groups challenged the stay in a petition to the appellate court. The judge’s ruling reinstated the provision of the original Boiler MACT rule that was swiftly denounced by boiler owners back in May 2011.

Despite the Judge’s ruling, the EPA continued to finalize the revised rule. The revised rules are “technically achievable by real-world boilers,” ABMA has said.

The revised rule is expected to be finalized by the end of this year. Boiler owners and operators will have three years to comply once the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

“EPA has had these rules under development, analysis, debate, judicial and public review, in one form or another, for nearly a decade,” Rawson stated in his letter to President Obama. “They are not unexpected, they are not overly complicated and although each compliance situation is unique, the technical know-how exists to overcome almost every compliance challenge.”

Coal-fired generation capacity in the U.S. is roughly 330 GW. The EPA estimates the rule would force power producers to retire about 4.7 GW of coal-fired capacity, given the large cost to install and maintain emission controls. But industry officials put the number closer to 25 MW or more.

There are nearly 14,000 boilers and process heaters at major HAPs sources in the U.S. EPA estimates the cost of adding new controls will exceed $5 billion.

Given three years to comply, compliance is expected to be problematic, considering a myriad of other clean-air rules facing the U.S. power sector.