AIR POLLUTION:

EPA's boiler rules to be released tomorrow

U.S. EPA will issue its controversial rules for toxic air pollution from industrial boilers tomorrow, an agency official said this morning, despite a court order that required the rules be done by Presidents Day.

The regulations, which are often called the "Boiler MACT" rules, would set limits on the amount of mercury and other dangerous chemicals that the boilers, solid waste incinerators and process heaters are allowed to release. Many manufacturing plants, paper mills and other industrial facilities use the devices, which are cousins of the larger boilers used by coal-fired power plants.

Though the pollution rules were originally due last month, EPA asked for more time, saying the agency needed another year to rework the rules that were proposed last summer. District Court Judge Paul Friedman declined the request and ordered EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to sign a final rule by yesterday, but the administration is now running a bit late.

The rules are still under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to an online database that follows new rules through the regulatory process. They will be released tomorrow, EPA press secretary Brendan Gilfillan said.

Lawmakers, businesses and advocacy groups are closely watching the final rules, which have been widely described as an early test of President Obama's new regulatory review initiative. About half of the members of Congress have already signed letters that raised concerns about last year's proposed rule, and in recent days, lawmakers have made another round of overtures.

Last week, 61 freshman congressmen led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) sent a letter asking EPA to make substantial changes to its final rule to protect businesses. Industry groups have raised concerns that paper mills, chemical plants and other U.S. facilities could be forced to close if the rules remain as stringent as they were proposed last year.

Meanwhile, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and 32 other House Democrats sent a letter urging EPA to finalize the boiler rules as they were suggested last year. They point to the estimated benefits of the rule, which would total between $17 billion and $41 billion per year.

"These benefits vastly outweigh the rule's total costs to industry and, indeed, generate net economic benefits between $14 billion and $38 billion every year," the letter says. "Contrary to claims advanced by some industry groups, EPA studies indicate that job losses resulting from the rule will be minimal and that compliance with the rule may actually generate as many as 12,000 new jobs."

On the Senate side, four Republican senators and two Senate Democrats asked Friday whether Congress should step in to give the agency more time. Circulated by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the letter questions whether the agency "will have sufficient time to complete the necessary improvements to the rule."

"We stand ready to assist you in finding a reasonable solution, one that allows EPA to craft new rules that are achievable and protective of public health without sacrificing economic recovery and manufacturing jobs," the letter says.

EPA has invited petitions for reconsideration of the rules, saying the agency will hammer out any remaining issues once they are finalized, but critics of the proposal would prefer an outright delay. Such a move would be more likely to gain traction in the House, where Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) asked Jackson about that option during a recent hearing.

She replied by saying the agency would follow the law and comply with the court order.

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