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U.S. chemical makers could face tougher, more costly air pollution controls

Court says EPA must revamp emission standards for industrial boilers

by Cheryl Hogue
March 19, 2018

Photo shows three large boilers in an industrial setting.
Credit: Shutterstock
EPA has worked for years on air emission standards for industrial boilers.

U.S. chemical manufacturing plants with large industrial boilers may face tighter, more expensive emission control requirements for toxic air pollutants because of a recent federal appeals court decision.

The court ordered EPA to revise a 2015 Clean Air Act regulation for some 14,000 boilers that produce heat or electricity at U.S. industrial plants. According to environmental activists, these industrial boilers are some of the nation’s largest sources of air pollution.

EPA’s regulation requires facilities to install pollution control equipment that limits boilers’ emissions of carbon monoxide to 130 parts per million. The agency said this technology would lower releases of other air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid, fine particulate matter, and mercury.

But EPA failed to explain why the CO standard was an acceptable substitute for establishing individual emission limits for other toxic air pollutants, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit says in a March 16 ruling. It directed EPA to revise the regulation. At the behest of environmental groups that brought the case, the court ordered the CO standard remain in place until the agency finalizes the rewrite.

In the decision, the court upheld another part of the regulation that establishes work practices to curtail emissions during start-up or shutdown of boilers. The American Chemistry Council, the major trade association of U.S. chemical manufacturers which intervened in the case, supports this portion of the regulation.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a 25-year saga of EPA attempting to control toxic air pollutants from industrial boilers. The agency issued its first emission standard for industrial boilers in 2004. A federal court struck it down in 2007. The agency tried again in 2011, but after industry, including chemical manufacturers, complained that those limits were unachievable, EPA revised them in 2013 and 2015.


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