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Revised Boiler MACT Rules Remove Some Uncertainty

Revised Boiler MACT Rules Remove Some Uncertainty

Story by Dan Shell,
Managing Editor

With its recent proposed revisions to the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules that were released in early December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a step forward in addressing major operational concerns across a variety of industries, including all facets of the wood processing industry.

Those concerns about potential new and highly expensive boiler compliance costs stemmed from initial MACT proposals EPA had released a year or so earlier. The potentially costly requirements had spread a large level of uncertainty across the industry, which is already struggling with historically soft markets due to the housing downturn and sluggish economy.

The biggest positive development for the forest products industry is that wood-burning boilers in almost all cases will not be subject to the much more stringent requirements of “solid waste” fired boilers—in effect industrial incinerators—which include a large list of hazardous pollutants that must be monitored, along with expensive control requirements.

Most pertinent to the forest products industry is that instead of lumping its boiler operations in with other industries in a “one size fits all” burdensome regulatory structure, EPA will seek to establish new emissions limits for particulate matter that are different for each solid fuel subcategory (such as biomass and coal, for example) that better reflect “real-world operating conditions.”

Along those same lines, EPA is proposing increased flexibility in compliance that may remove continuous monitoring requirements for biomass boiler units, plus carbon monoxide limits based on stack testing or continuous monitoring data instead of continuous monitoring systems.

The much-needed flexibility inherent in the revised proposals reflect a positive EPA response to industry concerns that boiler rule regulations proposed in 2010 were unachievable and unreasonable to the extent of causing large scale industrial plant closures and a quick halt to many new projects or planned expansions at existing facilities. According to the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC), the revised proposals are estimated to be 50% less costly than before.

Yet many obstacles remain: According to the American Forest & Paper Assn., the boiler MACT rules are among the “most complex MACT standards developed.” And while EPA’s revised proposals are an important step in writing a more reasonable set of regulations, concerns remain that the rules are still open to challenge in the courts, adding another level of uncertainty.

Another bit of good news is there’s still time to comment on the revised proposals, at least through February 2, by both email and fax. Panel World readers can easily find contact and comment information through major trade groups such as APA—The Engineered Wood Assn., Composite Panel Assn. or AF&PA. Do-it-yourself commenters can submit comments online by going to www.regulations.gov.

Needless to say, it’s exceedingly difficult to hit a home run with the EPA when grappling with any regulatory issue, but our industry helping to make noise about the original unreasonable proposals has helped remove at least one layer of uncertainty in the process.  With industry’s input, there’s still time to contribute to another positive result.

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