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Environment

House Bills Would Undermine EPA

Pollution: Congressional Republicans seek to derail rules on boilers, coal ash

by Glenn Hess
October 24, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 43

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Credit: iStock
A House-passed measure would further delay EPA’s new standards for emissions from industrial boilers.
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Credit: iStock
A House-passed measure would further delay EPA’s new standards for emissions from industrial boilers.

The House of Representatives approved a pair of bills that are the latest in a series of Republican-sponsored drafts aimed at delaying or blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution rules. Critics charge that these rules will harm the economy and jeopardize thousands of jobs.

The measures—one on industrial boiler and incinerator emissions and one on coal ash—are unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The White House opposes both bills.

On Oct. 13, the GOP-led House passed H.R. 2250, a measure scrapping EPA’s current plan for limiting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from 200,000 industrial boilers and incinerators. The bill directs the agency to develop new standards that can be met with existing technology. The legislation would also give refiners, manufacturers, and some universities and hospitals until at least 2018 to comply with the new emissions standards.

EPA has said it intends to issue new boiler standards by the end of October. The final rules will take effect in April 2012, and affected businesses will have three years to comply (C&EN, July 4, page 19).

Calvin M. Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, says the boiler bill would give EPA additional time to develop workable rules, provide certainty about the compliance deadlines, and give businesses the confidence to move ahead with investments, expansions, and hiring.

But John D. Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, calls the bill “the latest installment of the Tea Party’s unraveling of the Clean Air Act.” The bill, he adds, would allow “dirty incinerators and industrial boilers to pollute our air with more cancer-causing dioxins, arsenic, mercury, and lead.”

On Oct. 14, the House passed H.R. 2273, a measure that would block EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste. The bill would give states the flexibility to establish less stringent regulations for managing the residue from coal-fired power plants, which contains arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals.

Utilities that produce electricity from coal support the state-based approach to regulating coal ash. But activists say federally enforceable safeguards for the disposal of coal ash are long overdue.

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