EPA Issues Final Ruling on Industrial and Institutional Boiler Emissions Standards

After years of legal challenges and debate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued its final ruling on emissions requirements for power houses operated by universities and industrial facilities.

Finalized in December 2012, the Industrial Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology standard, or Boiler MACT, affects thousands of industrial and institutional boilers at facilities classified as major sources of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

What It Means

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 are subject to Boiler MACT requirements.

This final rule strikes a balance between the original rule, which had been thrown out by a U.S. court in 2007, and a short-lived 2011 version. "Although relaxed from the 2011 rule, the final rule is still significantly more stringent than the original," says Don Wolf, a Burns & McDonnell principal who specializes in air pollution control.

Nationally, more than 14,000 boilers are affected. Most burn natural gas and now must undergo periodic tuneups to demonstrate efficient combustion and minimal HAP emissions.

The rule's impact is far greater on the approximately 1,700 boilers nationwide that burn solid or liquid fuels, such as coal, biomass or oil. These boilers must now meet strict emission limits for particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide.

Affected facilities must be in compliance with the emission limits and other rule requirements by Jan. 31, 2016. Facilities proactively pursuing compliance may request a one-year extension. However, the extension requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and are not automatically granted.

"The new emission limits force most owners of coal- or biomass-fired boilers to retrofit additional pollution control equipment, switch to natural gas to fire their boilers, or shut their boilers down," Wolf says. The EPA estimates compliance will require an industrywide investment of $4.7 billion.

The cost for retrofitting any one boiler will vary according to its size, fuel source, the magnitude of reduction required and equipment condition.

Capital costs could range from less than $1 million for a sorbent injection system to $5 million, $10 million or more for a baghouse or scrubber. While converting boilers to natural gas or installing new natural gas-fired boilers is often less costly, upgrading a facility's natural gas delivery capacity can add significantly to the expense.

What's Next

Despite its "final" status, the new rule could still change, says Wolf, who, with colleagues at Burns & McDonnell, has provided planning and design services to more than two dozen universities and industrial facilities aiming for Boiler MACT compliance.

"Given the history and complex nature of this rule, litigation is inevitable," he says. "Although it is unlikely the rule would be thrown out again, it is possible that parts of it could be reconsidered while the rule stays in effect," a process that could take years.

"Because of the time needed to implement compliance solutions, facilities have little choice but to begin planning now," he says. "It's smart to build flexibility into these solutions to accommodate possible future changes."

The only way to know what modifications might be necessary is to conduct a compliance study to establish both baseline emissions information and current and future facility operating needs. In many cases, the compliance study may include stack testing to help establish the baseline.

"By comparing your baseline emissions against the Boiler MACT emission limits, you can begin to assess if you will be in compliance and develop a compliance approach," Wolf says.

Given the 2016 compliance deadline, that leaves a relatively short window to act. For affected facilities, the message is clear: The time to act is now.

For more information, contact Don Wolf, 314-682-1532.

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