Congress weighs economic, health considerations in regulation of air pollution from industrial boilers.
With the support of nearly every Republican member of the House of Representative, along with about forty Democrats, the House passed a new bill last week that would create new guidelines for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in setting air pollution standards for industrial boilers, process heaters, and incinerators.
The EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011, proposed by House Republicans and passed by a vote of 275 to 142, would prevent the implementation of four rules promulgated by the EPA in March of this year. Those four rules, known collectively as the Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rules, specify air pollution emissions standards for boilers and incinerators. Industry groups, such as the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, have criticized those standards as onerous and unachievable.
The Regulatory Relief Act would delay the implementation of the Boiler MACT rules, giving the EPA fifteen months from date of passage to propose new standards for boilers, process heaters, and incinerators. Users of covered boilers, process heaters, and incinerators would have five years to achieve compliance with the EPA’s regulations, instead of the three years the Boiler MACT rules specified. The bill would further direct the EPA to take into account “actual operating conditions” when designing emissions standards.
According to a report of the Republican controlled House Committee on Energy and Commerce, compliance with just one of the EPA’s Boiler MACT rules could cost more than $14 billion and lead to the elimination of 224,000 jobs. The EPA estimates total compliance costs for all of its rules to be $5.8 billion.
House Democrats who voted against the Regulatory Relief Act emphasized the health benefits of the original Boiler MACT rules. The EPA has estimated that the MACT rules will avoid up to 6,500 premature deaths, 41,000 aggravated asthma cases, and generate an aggregate of $54 billion in health benefits in 2014.
The House bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. At the same time, a Senate committee is also considering a similar bill that would delay EPA rules that would apply to the Portland cement industry — the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011. Like the House bill, the Senate bill would give the EPA 15 months to promulgate new emissions standards and would delay implementation of those standards for at least five years after their passage.