AIR POLLUTION:

New House bill would delay emissions rules for boilers

With the blessing of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), four Republicans and four Democrats from the committee unveiled a bill today that would give U.S. EPA more time to rework its new air pollution limits for industrial boilers.

The lead sponsors of the bill (H.R. 2250) are Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who are joined by Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Pete Olson (R-Texas), Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Upton said the bill is "proof positive that members can work together" to stop regulations that critics say threaten jobs. Companies that own boilers -- including paper mills, chemical plants and other factories, which use them for heat and power -- say they could shut down or lay off workers if they are forced to spend more than $5.8 billion on pollution control rules that will raise annual costs by about $2.2 billion per year, based on EPA's projections.

Constrained by court rulings and facing heavy pressure on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration asked a federal judge for an extra 15 months to rework its plan, but the judge ordered EPA to move ahead. Soon after signing the final rules this February, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said she would use a rare legal tactic to delay the requirements as the agency takes another look at them.

But Upton and the sponsors of the new bill say that's not enough.

They are proposing to scrap the rules that were finalized in February and give EPA another 15 months to come out with a replacement. Companies would have at least five years, rather than a maximum of three under current law, to comply.

"This bill gives EPA the time it needs to write rules that make sense, and it gives businesses, schools, and other affected facilities the time they need to put the rules into action," Upton said in a statement.

It was applauded by industry groups like the American Forest & Paper Association, which says the emissions rules would be a heavy blow to lumber and paper companies that are already shedding employees and making razor-thin profits. Donna Harman, the trade group's president, said today that the bill would ensure the final rules "simultaneously protect jobs and the environment."

The bill would require EPA to choose the "least burdensome" regulatory alternatives that are available, while choosing limits that "can be met under actual operating conditions consistently."

Those sections would overturn court decisions that tell EPA to base its pollution limits on the emissions of the cleanest boilers, said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. And the two-year extension for compliance would be deadly, he said, because EPA says its rules would prevent as many as 6,500 premature deaths each year.

Boilers are the nation's second-largest industrial source of mercury after coal-fired power plants, which are also being subjected to new toxic emissions rules. They also release acid gases, lung-irritating soot and cancer-causing dioxins.

"There's not a single word in this bill that better protects public health or air quality," Walke said. "At best, this legislation is completely unnecessary because the administration has already delayed the rules, and at worst -- in reality -- it's a sweeping attack on the safeguards in the Clean Air Act."

No hearing or vote on the bill has been scheduled yet, said Charlotte Baker, the House committee's press secretary.

Click here to read the bill.