Legislation calls for more time devoted to MACT rules

By Lisa Gibson | June 22, 2011

In a bipartisan act introduced in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee June 22, eight legislators called for additional time for the U.S. EPA to fix the Maximum Achievable Control Technology Rules, which have been temporarily suspended.

“Our goal is simple,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement released June 22. “With the EPA Regulatory Relief Act, we are giving EPA the time it needs—the time it has requested—to address difficult technical issues and develop rules that are workable in the real world. Likewise, businesses, institutions, and facilities need adequate time to finance the new monitoring and control equipment that will be required to meet the new standards, to obtain necessary regulatory approvals, and to design, procure, install, test, train personnel, and start up equipment. Without regulatory relief, EPA’s current rules endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide by forcing plant shutdowns and relocation of American manufacturing and jobs overseas. We look forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the Obama administration, to see this type of common-sense relief become law.”

The MACT rules have had a rocky past and have been criticized by many industries and agencies through the entire process since the proposals were released in April 2010. Nearly 5,000 comments were submitted on those proposals, overwhelming the EPA and prompting it to request a 15-month extension past its January 2011 deadline for the final rules. The court denied the request and ordered the agency to release the final rules in 30 days. The final rules were released in February and published in the Federal Register on March 21.

The rules encompass standards for four source categories—major source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and process heaters; area source industrial, commercial and institutional boilers; commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators; and sewage sludge incinerators—as well as an updated definition of solid waste, crucial in determining which rules a technology will fall under. While the final is more biomass friendly than the proposal, the rules still cause concern including areas in the solid waste definition on certain pollutant limits in the major source rule. By the EPA’s own estimation, its MACT rules as they currently are would impose $5.8 billion in upfront costs, along with about $2.2 billion annually.

The new legislation would give the EPA the time it needs to write rules that make sense, according to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. It would provide the EPA with at least 15 months to repropose the rules for boilers, process heaters and incinerators; extend the compliance deadline from three to at least five years; direct EPA to adopt definitions allowing sources to use a wide range of alternative fuels; and direct EPA to ensure that the new rules are achievable by real-world boilers, process heaters and incinerators, and impose the least burdensome regulatory alternatives. 

The act was introduced by Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., together with Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Pete Olson, R-Texas, Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Steve Scalise, R-La.

Donna Harman, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, said the legislation is critical to protecting manufacturing jobs and providing a level of certainty in which businesses may operate while EPA rewrites the rules. “By EPA’s own admission, there are significant portions of the boiler MACT rules that require changes to be technically achievable in real-world operating conditions,” she said. “The court previously denied EPA the time it needed to develop good rules, and now tens of thousands of jobs at businesses, municipalities, universities, hospitals and other institutions that operate boilers could be put at risk without this legislation. While EPA has stayed the rule, uncertainty remains as this rule has continually been influenced by judicial decisions. Congress has the authority to guarantee EPA the time they need to begin fixing this rule and the introduction of this bill is the first step toward establishing that guarantee.”

The Biomass Power Association expressed gratitude for the act, and President Bob Cleaves called it common sense. “This will help ensure that the EPA gets boiler MACT and related solid waste rules right the first time and it will help protect the biomass industry from the undue burden of meeting harsh emissions standards that do not apply to our industry,” he said.

The American Wood Council also praised the legislation. President Robert Glowinski said, “We have and will continue to work with EPA, while also supporting efforts to pass this legislation to enable sound, reasonable boiler MACT rules that protect jobs, many of which are in rural communities, and the environment.”