Today’s Poll

Commentary: U.S. House of Representatives passes bill to weaken EPA clean air rules

October 21st, 2011

By Dominick DalSanto,

Two bills are currently working they way through the U.S. Congress in an attempt to stay activation of new air pollution regulations propagated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, namely additions to the NESHAP, Cement MACT, and Boiler MACT standards scheduled to take effect in the next few months.

The new regulations will require most facilities to install updated dust collection systems to meet more stringent emissions levels.

The pair of bills, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 and the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011, are part of a larger effort by conservatives to curtail the so-called “aggressive” agenda of the EPA.

Several different EPA rule sets are covered by the bill, but the main three are the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs), Boiler MACTs (Maximum Available Control Technology), and Cement MACTs which covers emissions from the manufacture of cement. The standards are either new, or updates to existing EPA regulations.

The EPA NESHAPs cover the six basic air pollutants the EPA regulates: carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter e.g. dusts smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), lead, and ozone. These rules were recently revised to include stricter limits.

The MACT standards require facilities to install what has been determined to be the most efficient currently available pollution control technology for their process

The “Boiler MACT” refers to four interrelated rules govern emissions of mercury, dioxin, particulate matter, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide from some 200,000 boilers nationwide. These boilers burn natural gas, fuel oil, coal, biomass (e.g., wood), refinery gas, or other gas to produce steam, which is used to generate electricity or provide heat for factories and other industrial and institutional facilities.

In addition, the “Cement MACT” rules refers to similar new standards that apply specifically to the Portland cement industry. Some of the MACT technologies include air scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide (SO2) sorbent injection for nitrogen oxides (NOx), and baghouses (or dust collection systems) to remove particulate matter i.e. dust pollution (PM2.5) and mercury.

The new legislation would prevent these standards from coming into effect, and would instead require the EPA within 15 months to issue new regulations. These include:

  1. Define standards for Boiler MACT, performance standards, and other requirements per the Clean Air Act
  2. Research, identify, and categorize non-hazardous materials that can be used as fuel in plants and industrial sources as solid waste under the Solid Waste Disposal Act for the classification purposes.

Differing views on the cost

Opponents of the new regulations claim the cost of implementing the new rules is unacceptable.

The EPA estimates the cost of implementing the new Cement MACT along to be $2.2 billion, and acknowledges that the new requirements will lead to “idling” or closure of 12 plants throughout the country.

Additionally, the EPA estimates the rules will lead to an overall increase in the price of Portland cement of approx. 5.4% and decrease U.S. production by 12%.

In contrast to EPA estimates, industry groups such as the Portland Cement Association have released studies claiming the impact will be much higher, estimating that 18 plants will be shut down (nearly 20% of the U.S. industry and that compliance costs of both the Cement MACTs and Boiler MACTs would be $3.4 billion annually and $2 billion respectively for the cement industry.

The Boiler MACTs have an EPA estimated implementation cost of $9.5 billion. A study by the economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, prepared for the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, put the figure at $20 billion.

Those favoring the new standards say the benefits to public health far outweigh the costs to be bourn by the industry. EPA estimates claim the rules will save billions in health care costs by prevents thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other aliments.

The White House said the bills would nix “long-overdue requirements to reduce air pollution from industrial boilers, solid waste incinerators, and cement plants.”

Opponents contend the rules will threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, a sensitive subject given the recent economic situation.

A release from the office of House Majority Lead Eric Cantor says the EPA regulations “would cost millions in compliance costs and eliminate jobs…By removing regulatory burdens we can provide certainty to manufacturers, employers, schools, and hospitals so they have the confidence to invest, expand and hire again.”

Cement industry representatives have gone on record before congress saying that implementing the new rules will lead to “the loss of 4,000 manufacturing jobs… and create barriers to investment.

The rules are complex, spanning 276 pages and encompassing controls and monitoring standards for 11 subcategories of boilers Disruptions to the availability of domestic cement supplies will have adverse impacts on the nation’s beleaguered construction sector, which is currently suffering from an unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent.  

As the economy hopefully rebounds, a decrease in domestic production will require an increase in imported cement to meet demand. The result will be increased costs in revitalizing the nation’s waterways, bridges, highways and tunnels which, in turn, will only place more burdens on the nation’s already stressed state and municipal budgets.”

What it means

There is no debating that particulate matter, SO2, NOx, lead, mercury, and ozone cause lasting harm to all who are exposed to them.

SO2, NOx, and ozone are powerful lung irritants, aggravating conditions such as asthma, lead and mercury exposure damages the brain and nervous system, especially in the young, and can contaminate areas for decades, and particulate matter e.g. dust pollution, is the manner in which most of these pollutants are distributed across large swaths of our nation, and even internationally.

The likelihood of these bills passing the Democrat-controlled Senate, are slim, however with presidential election looming, a worsening economic outlook, and an American public eager to see anything that could lead to more jobs, and increased economic prospect, this may be just the beginning.

If these new rules are allowed to go into effect, industry will be forced to invest heavily in pollution control equipment such as baghouse dust collectors, mercury capture systems, SO2 air scrubbers, and NOx controls.

While this will cost large sums of money, many point out that these products are services are almost entirely engineered, and manufactured in the U.S. This leads many to conclude that while the investment will be a large one, at least it will be one that is made in America.


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