AIR POLLUTION:

18 Senate Dems join GOP in assault on EPA's boiler proposal

In a sign of growing bipartisan opposition to a proposed crackdown on air pollution from industrial boilers, 18 Senate Democrats have joined a slew of Republicans in asking EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to scale back the agency's plans.

The 41 senators are worried about the proposed "Boiler MACT" rule, which would require operators of the boilers to install maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for toxic air pollutants such as mercury. It could cost tens of billions of dollars to upgrade the nation's roughly 200,000 boilers, which provide power to many industrial facilities, universities and hospitals.

According to the new letter, which was circulated by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the rule could also hold back progress on environmental protection.

"EPA has concluded that no additional large biomass-fired boilers will be built in the United States, indicating the cessation of the domestic biomass industry," the letter says. "As a result, we are rightly concerned that the proposed standards appear to create serious obstacles to the development of biomass energy projects, which have the potential to significantly reduce air pollution and the production of greenhouse gases."

The boiler rule has prompted opposition from trade groups for the forestry industry and other business sectors, who say the rule would be too costly to implement during an economic downturn. According to a recent study from the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, every $1 billion spent on compliance with the rules for boilers would threaten an additional 16,000 jobs.

"For 40 years we have heard predictions of doom and gloom from business groups every time EPA proposes tougher clean air controls," said Frank O'Donnell, president of advocacy group Clean Air Watch, in an e-mail responding to the study. "These predictions are invariably exaggerated" (E&ENews PM, Sept. 15).

Still, the letter could signal a broader lack of support for the rule among the Democratic base. Many of the Democratic senators who signed it -- Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Patty Murray of Washington; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Mark Begich of Alaska -- are typically regarded as EPA boosters.

But all of them come from states with large forestry industries. Klobuchar, for one, pressed Jackson on the boiler rule during a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on EPA regulations.

Representatives of the American Forest & Paper Association, a trade group, were scheduled to meet today with EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and EPA air chief Gina McCarthy, according to their public schedules.

In a letter sent to the senators today, EPA said businesses didn't provide enough information when the agency announced its intention to issue a proposed rule.

Although it was difficult to "calculate standards that fully reflected operational reality," the letter says, "the agency nevertheless was legally required to public proposed subcategories and standards based on the information it had at the time."

During the public comment period that followed the release of the proposed rule, the agency received "a lot of information," an EPA spokesman said in a statement today. "The final standards, which are not due until early next year, will reflect all of the relevant new information, and that is exactly how this process is supposed to work."

Click here to read the letter from senators to EPA.

Click here to read EPA's response.