WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued long-delayed new air pollution standards for industrial boilers, incinerators and cement kilns. The rules provide significant concessions to industry and allow several additional years for full compliance in an effort to minimize job and economic impacts, officials said.
The new standards for the first time set numerical limits on emissions of mercury, acid gas and small-particle pollution for a small subset of the nation’s 1.5 million industrial boilers. The agency, which has come under withering criticism from Congressional Republicans for what they contend is regulatory overreach, emphasized that the standards were drafted after extensive consultation with industry groups and local officials.
The agency said that the rules would affect fewer than 1 percent of industrial boilers, and that the others either would not be covered by the regulations or can meet the standards by performing routine maintenance.
The agency said that the rules would prevent as many as 8,100 premature deaths and 52,000 asthma attacks a year by limiting emissions of lung-scarring particles and toxic pollutants. The agency is giving boiler operators at least three years to meet the standards.
The boilers are generally small-scale power and heat plants found at refineries, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, universities and paper mills.
Despite the weakening of the rule and the additional time for compliance, industry complained that the regulation would cripple the economy.
The National Association of Manufacturers estimated that compliance with the rules would cost industry as much as $14 billion and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs. The environmental agency estimates the compliance costs at about $2 billion, however.
“The onslaught of regulations from the E.P.A. means manufacturers will continue to see rising energy prices and skyrocketing compliance costs, which translate into few opportunities for growth and even few jobs,” the association said in a statement on Friday. “Any confidence manufacturers had that the E.P.A.’s next four years will be different is quickly eroding.”
The new boiler rules are the subject of continuing litigation by industry and environmental groups. Those challenges are expected to continue.
The agency also issued a new rule governing emissions from the country’s roughly 100 cement plants. The rule, issued under a court-ordered deadline, had been in litigation for more than a decade and faced fierce opposition from House Republicans last year. The agency said the regulation would cut emissions of mercury by 93 percent, hydrochloric acid by 96 percent and particulate matter by 91 percent.
But environmental advocates said that the 10-year delay in imposing the rule and the additional two or three years granted industry to comply with it would have devastating health and environmental impacts.
“The two-year delay has real health effects,” said James Pew, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which filed suit in 2011 on behalf of communities near cement plants. “Using the E.P.A.’s estimates, these new rules would save 960-2,500 lives a year. Every year of delay is one more year communities suffer.”
The Portland Cement Association, which represents the industry, said it welcomed the new environmental rule — a rare expression of approval for regulatory action by a Democratic administration.
“E.P.A.’s revised rule strikes the right balance in establishing compliance limits that, while still extremely challenging, are now realistic and achievable,” the association said in a statement. “P.C.A. and E.P.A. agreed that the revised standards and reset compliance period are essential to preserving jobs at domestic cement facilities, providing direct support for an American manufacturing industry that is critical to our nation’s infrastructure.”
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