Virginia Congressman says MACT revisions still have a chance

By Luke Geiver | December 21, 2011

The fate of H.R. 2250, the EPA Regulatory Relief Act that would grant the U.S. EPA more time to analyze a series of emissions regulations put forth in the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules, will have to wait.

The highly contested Boiler MACT regulations are still in limbo after the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a proposed bill tweaked by the U.S. Senate that would have extended a payroll tax cut, extended unemployment benefits, and most importantly for the biomass industry, enacted H.R. 2250. Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who sponsored H.R. 2250 in October, spoke with Biomass Power & Thermal only hours after speaking on the U.S. House of Representatives floor where both republicans and democrats voiced their opinions for or against the choice to vote down the Senate bill. “Boiler MACT basically requires the EPA to go back and look at a whole series of regulations, which would affect the biomass industry,” Griffith said.

The payroll tax legislation will be revisited in January, he added, when the Senate returns from its holiday break. But if the political wrangling of Congress had not taken place in the last month, Boiler MACT provisions could have received the extension Griffith was hoping to grant with the Regulatory Relief Act. While the first bill drafted and passed by the House this week did contain the exact text of that act, the bill the Senate voted through with an overwhelming majority did not.

“My gut feeling is, because they only did a two-month bill, that they just decided not to deal with anything except the Keystone XL Pipeline and the two-month extension of the payroll tax exemption and the extension of the unemployment benefits,” Griffith said of the Senate’s revised bill. So, he added, they did not deal with a lot of the issues that were in the bill.

On the same day, the House voted down the Senate’s stripped down two-month bill, but the House did pass a resolution referencing H.R. 2250. The resolution acts as a sign of support for the bill, Griffith explained, and also says that Congress believes a revision to the Boiler MACT rules is a good policy for the United States.

Griffith’s hope for an extended compliance time period for the Boiler MACT provisions from three years to five years isn’t, however, linked to the fate of a payroll tax bill. “As we negotiate in January, I think Boiler MACT will be back on the table,” he said. But, if payroll tax debate falters, Griffith believes H.R. 2250 is not only strong enough to stand on its own, but is also a reasonable bill given the fact that it has already received support from 13 democrats in the Senate and 41in the House. “I’ve never seen [H.R. 2250] as make or break to be a part of [the payroll tax bill] deal.”

In addition to Griffith’s Regulatory Relief Act, there is also a Senate version of the bill that is nearly identical. “[The Senate counterpart] is not identical but is so close that it would take the mother of an identical twin to tell the difference between the two,” he said, adding that if it came down to it, he’d be happy to accept the differences to get the legislation passed.

And, even if H.R. 2250 doesn’t resurface until spring 2012, he believes there will never be a final deadline or time when pursuing the bill wouldn’t make sense. But the problem that might stem from a delayed implementation of the bill would directly affect jobs. “I think there may be some folks that just say, ‘We can’t do it,’ and head to Mexico or China or India or someplace like that, and that is my big fear,” he said.

Griffith cited an example of a large company that will be affected in his home state of Virginia without a bill like H.R. 2250 passing. The Celco Plant, owned and operated by the Celanese Co., which started in the Celco facility in1939 to manufacture cellulose acetate, flake and filament, is in a lose-lose situation, he said. Located in Narrows, Va., the Celco plant is the “poster child,” of facilities that will be negatively affected by Boiler MACT rules and the short threebyear time period to implement new emissions controls. “The easy thing for them to do would be to switch to natural gas and that would solve most of the problem for them, but there is no natural gas in Narrows, Va.”

As Griffith explained, the city is located between two mountains on one side of a river. In order to switch to natural gas, the facility would have to lay pipeline and receive the necessary easements from the EPA to bring the pipeline through the only area that would work, the river. “They are going to be sued no matter what they do…there is absolutely no way they can get it done in three years.” Everybody or every state, he said, has a situation like the Celco facility, and because of that he noted, “I believe [H.R. 2250] still has a chance.”