EPA asks for boiler MACT rule extension

By Lisa Gibson | December 08, 2010

In a move that has the biomass industry talking, the U.S. EPA has filed a motion with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia seeking an extension of the current schedule for issuing the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules.

The requested extension would allow another 15 months for the EPA to release rules reducing harmful air emissions from large and small boilers and solid waste incinerators. “After receiving additional data through the extensive public comment period, EPA is requesting more time to develop these important rules,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Regulation.

Without the extension, the agency is on a court-ordered timeline to issue final rules by January, having already proposed standards in April. “While EPA requested and received some information from industry before the proposal, the comments EPA received following the proposal shed new light on a number of key areas, including the scope and coverage of the rules and the way to categorize the various boiler types,” the agency said in a press release.

Not only would the extension request push back the final release date to April 2012, but it also specifies that the EPA would like to re-propose the rules, allowing for yet another public comment period. “After reviewing the data and the more than 4,800 public comments, the agency believes it is appropriate to issue a revised proposal that reflects the new data and allows for additional public comment,” the agency said.

A spokesperson for the EPA said it’s too early to determine what might be in the final rule, but areas of concern also include defining sub categorizations of commercial and industrial solid waste incinerator units that burn biomass.

Under the current proposed rule, biomass boilers previously considered multi-fuel boilers would instead be classified as incinerators and be subject to new emission limits for five pollutants: mercury, hydrogen chloride, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and dioxin. Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association, has argued since its release that the proposed rule would devastate the biomass power industry, requiring expensive retrofits at virtually 100 percent of existing facilities. It would close plants and cost jobs, he added.

The American Forest & Paper Association welcomed the extension request, citing disappointing nationwide unemployment numbers for November at 9.8 percent. “I am hopeful the EPA has heard the concerns with the aspects of the initially proposed rule and that the revised rule will be written with an eye toward U.S. competitiveness,” said AF&PA president and CEO Donna Harman.