Friday, December 02, 2011

EPA's new toxic boiler proposal: only a tiny fraction of boilers would meet tough emission limits; why are opponents squawking?

Dear friends, as you probably know, the US EPA today is releasing a new proposal to deal with the toxic pollution caused by industrial boilers and related activities.

This has been an extremely controversial issue, with a range of polluters lobbying Congress to block EPA from taking action. The House of Representatives obliged, taking both dictation and campaign contributions, though the President has said he would veto rollbacks.

The EPA has just made its new proposal public , so we obviously have not had much time to analyze it. However, a couple of things do seem worth noting:

EPA does seem to be working hard to make sure that the cleanup produces cleaner air in a practical and affordable way. It notes that the proposed standards would avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths and 52,000 asthma attacks a year. It also estimates that every dollar in cost would produce $12 to $30 dollars in benefits. Even the bean counters like OMB’s Cass Sunstein ought to like this one.

It appears that more than 99 percent of boilers in the country are either clean enough that they are not covered by these standards or will only need to conduct maintenance and tune-ups to comply. Today’s proposals focus on the less than one percent of boilers that emit the majority of pollution from this sector. Even among the biggest industrial boilers (14,000 of them), 88% percent of those would be required to conduct periodic tune-ups. Only 12% would be required to take steps to meet
emissions limits if they do not already meet them.

So EPA is really trying to focus the cleanup on the biggest and dirtiest boilers out there.

This is obviously a very serious source of toxic pollution – one that needs to be dealt with to protect public health.

Opponents in Congress ought to stand down and let the agency move forward with what looks to be at least an effort to deal with this mess in a practical and cost-effective way. (This is, by the way, just a proposal. Industry groups and others will doubtless continue to sound off as we all examine this proposal in more detail.)

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