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EPA eases air limits for biorefineries

April 23, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 17

Credit: iStockphoto
Credit: iStockphoto

New or expanding ethanol plants will be able to emit 2.5 times more air pollution before triggering a "major source" definition that requires tougher air pollution controls, under a recent EPA regulation. The rule raises the emissions threshold from 100 tons per year for a single pollutant to 250 tons per year and exempts from regulation "fugitive emissions," which are emitted from nonpoint sources. The change in policy means that ethanol biorefineries will no longer be regulated as chemical process plants that must comply with the lower threshold. Instead, ethanol biofineries will be regulated like corn-milling plants that produce alcohol for human consumption. The agency says the rule constitutes "equal treatment" for all ethanol plants, but industry figures show that ethanol biofineries process nearly 20 times more corn than beverage alcohol distilleries and intend to double production over the next two years. EPA said the lower threshold could stymie industry growth, however, and "hamper our nation's efforts toward energy independence." The change is opposed by state and local air regulatory associations that say newly constructed plants will no longer need to install modern pollution control equipment that had been required in the past. EPA's rule is a significant shift from earlier enforcement actions directed to the biofuels industry. One such settlement with Archer Daniels Midland in 2003 eliminated 63,000 tons of air pollution a year from 52 plants and required ADM to spend $340 million.


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