AIR POLLUTION:

EPA agrees to review toxics from 28 industries

In response to a challenge from environmentalists, U.S. EPA has agreed to examine its air pollution rules for 28 industry sectors within the next eight years, setting the stage for review of the emissions control technologies used by large sectors including the paper, furniture and aerospace industries.

Under the settlement, which was filed yesterday in federal district court in Oakland, Calif., EPA would face a court deadline to review about a quarter of its maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards, which set industry-by-industry limits on hazardous air pollutants. During reviews of current technology for the 28 sectors, the agency would have to decide whether to impose tougher restrictions or leave the existing emissions limits in place.

The settlement also requires the agency to perform residual risk assessments -- analyses of the public health impacts that remain once all required controls have all been put in place. While some sectors covered by the settlement are larger than others, meaning changes to those standards could have a broader impact, EPA's failure to gauge residual risk has prevented the public from knowing the extent of the risks posed by each industry, said Emma Cheuse, an attorney at Earthjustice.

"This settlement will help EPA get back on track in terms of the legal duties that Congress has enacted into law, because it is a significant list," said Cheuse, who represented the Sierra Club in the case. "Every one of these reviews is really important because we don't have the information that we need to assess the risk that remains to public health after the technology standards."

Among other sectors that would face review are aluminum production, cement manufacturing, lead smelting, pesticide manufacturing, pharmaceuticals production and shipbuilding.

The settlement lays out a timeline for each MACT standard, requiring the agency to begin issuing proposed rules by September. The sector with the longest time frame for review would be the cement industry, with a proposed cement standard due by 2017 and a final rule required by the following year.

Toxic emissions from the industry sectors have a variety of public health and environmental impacts, said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club's air toxics task force, in a statement yesterday.

"For too many years, Americans have waited for the EPA to update and strengthen these standards. Now EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is committing to act on a long list of air toxics standards to protect people from serious health problems caused by air pollution," she said. "We applaud her decision to take action so that people exposed every day to toxic industrial pollution will finally have the chance to receive the basic health protections promised by the Clean Air Act."

The group filed its original lawsuit early last year, claiming EPA allowed its toxics standards to lapse during the George W. Bush administration. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to review MACT standards every eight years (Greenwire, Jan. 14, 2009).

In its response to the lawsuit, EPA admitted that the agency "has not reviewed and revised, or determined that it is not necessary to revise," each of the MACT standards cited by the group.

The group's lawsuit was opposed by the American Forest & Paper Association and the Association of Battery Recyclers Inc., both of which represent industries that would be affected by the stricter MACT standards.

The forestry industry group has been a vocal critic of the agency's MACT standards and a newly proposed rule that would tighten emissions control standards for industrial boilers. Stricter rules could require the group's members to spend billions of dollars on upgrades and hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual costs, said Tim Hunt, the group's senior director for air quality programs, during an EPA hearing last month.

"We believe EPA has significant discretion in the MACT program to protect public health while avoiding the unnecessary burdens these proposed regulations could impose," Hunt said. "To be a sustainable industry supporting high paying jobs and providing sustainable products, environmental regulations need to be balanced. Otherwise, costs of this scale will force further mill closures and tens or even hundreds of thousands of additional job losses."

Click here to read the settlement.

Click here to read the Sierra Club's lawsuit.

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