The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is issuing stricter emissions requirements for the power houses operated by universities, hospitals and industrial facilities. This new Boiler MACT Rule will affect thousands of industrial and institutional boilers found to be a source of hazardous air pollutants.
After nearly seven years of debate and legal challenges, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 21 issued new, stricter emissions requirements for the power houses operated by universities, hospitals and industrial facilities. Then, on May 18, it stayed the effective date of the Industrial Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology standard, or Boiler MACT.
The new regulation would affect thousands of industrial and institutional boilers deemed to be a major source of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Affected facilities were to have until March 21, 2014, to comply with the new requirements. But the stay puts all that up in the air.
The stay means that the Boiler MACT rule does not exist until the proceedings for judicial review of the rule are complete or the EPA completes its reconsideration of the rule, whichever is earlier. The EPA is taking comment on the stayed rule until July 15. It could re-propose the rule. The length of the stay, when the rule will again be in place, and what the compliance date will be are all unknown.
What It Means
Under the rule as published in March, if a facility collectively emits more than 10 tons per year of any one HAP or 25 tons per year of any combination of HAPs, its boilers would be subject to Boiler MACT requirements. This new Boiler MACT regulation took the place of an even more stringent draft rule introduced in April 2010 that drew unprecedented feedback during its public comment period. That draft rule had replaced an earlier version that had been vacated in 2004 when challenged in court by environmental groups.
"Although the final rule had been slightly relaxed from last year's draft rule, it was still significantly more stringent that the vacated rule and added carbon monoxide and dioxins/furans to the list of regulated emissions," explains Don Wolf, a Burns & McDonnell principal who specializes in air pollution control.
"When the EPA moves forward with the rule after the stay, the tighter emission limits may force owners of existing coal- or biomass-fired boilers to upgrade existing pollution control equipment significantly or consider switching to natural gas to fire their boilers," Wolf says. "The dioxin/furan limits pose other challenges. Little testing has been done to understand the magnitude of the emission of these pollutants or how to best control them."
Given the stay and reconsideration of the rule, it will likely change — but by how much and when the final compliance date will be are unknowns at this point, says Wolf, who with his Burns & McDonnell colleagues has provided planning and design services to more than a dozen universities and industrial facilities aiming for Boiler MACT compliance.
"Furthermore, the EPA received petitions for judicial review of the rule shortly after it was finalized. So the legal challenges that are running parallel to the EPA's reconsideration add an extra layer of uncertainty to the rule's final outcome," he says.
As the rule was issued in March, most solid fuel-fired facilities that were already in compliance with the vacated rule would likely have required upgrades, which may have included the retrofit of sorbent injection systems, baghouses and scrubbers. The only way to know what modifications might be necessary is to conduct a Boiler MACT compliance study to establish baseline emissions information. In many cases, the compliance study may include stack testing to help the facility baseline its current emissions, especially for dioxin/furan and carbon monoxide.
The cost for modifications can vary, depending on boiler size, fuel type and the extent and condition of existing equipment. Capital costs could range from $1 million or less for a sorbent injection system to $5 million to $10 million or more for a baghouse or scrubber. Projects can be expected to take from 18 months to three years to complete.
"For now, facility owners can watch, wait and begin assessing how they might comply with the Boiler MACT rule as we know it so far," Wolf says. "Having tentative plans will help speed the road to compliance when the dust settles."
For more information, contact Don Wolf, 314-682-1532.