Biomass Industry Seeks Revamp of Proposed Boiler Rules

by | Aug 27, 2010

The biomass industry is demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revamp newly proposed standards (pdf) that would impose strict emissions limits on boilers in wood-burning plants, claiming the new standards would require billions in equipment upgrades that would “endanger” the “entire renewable energy industry,” reports SolveClimate News.

The Biomass Power Association said on Wednesday it is appealing to EPA for special protections under a series of maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for industrial boilers.

Two rules – the boiler MACT and the area source MACT – are at the heart of BPA’s concerns.

The association said they would impose unnecessary regulatory burden on a $1 billion industry that it says causes no environmental harm or public health threats.

“The problem is that EPA is trying to create this one-size-fits-all-approach — not distinguishing among fuels, and not distinguishing among boilers,” Bob Cleaves, BPA president told SolveClime News. “A one size fits all will not move the [biomass] industry forward.”

Cleaves said the rules would impact all of the nation’s current 100 biomass facilities. For potential new projects, he said, just the prospect of having to install state-of-the-art pollution controls is having a “chilling effect.”

Enesta Jones, an EPA spokesperson, told SolveClimate News that the agency intends to take the association’s concerns into account “along with all public comments as we prepare our final regulations.”

EPA expects to finalize the regulation in December.

The biomass industry burns organic waste material — mainly wood — to make electric power, generating pollution, including particulate matter. Advocates say it is a proven carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. But opponents cite an increase in biomass facilities would cause more air pollution and could lead to the destruction of carbon-absorbing forests.

EPA’s MACT standards set limits on hazardous air emissions across 28 large industry sectors. Under the Clean Air Act, the agency must review them every eight years.

The proposed standards would reclassify the boiler units at biomass plants as incinerators. The designation would subject them to stricter emissions limits for several toxic pollutants, including mercury, hydrogen chloride, manganese, carbon monoxide and dioxin.

The limits are impossible to meet, according to Cleaves. They would require installation of a non-existent “super boiler,” Cleaves told Biomass Magazine, borrowing the best emissions standards from different kinds of boilers and combining them.

Even if the standards could be achieved, Cleaves told SolveClime News it would cost “billions of dollars” and would force many plants to close, putting the nation’s effort to combat global warming in jeopardy.”

Cleaves said the assocation wants EPA to provide the biomass industry with “some type of flexibility” in meeting the boiler MACT restrictions.

It also wants facilities to have the opportunity to meet the standards at reasonable costs and to demonstrate that emissions of certain pollutants do not pose a public health threat.

The EPA standards would affect a number of additional industries involved in the combustion of forest products and agricultural waste. On August 2, 100 members of Congress  sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, expressing their concern with the proposed boiler MACT rule.

“EPA should use a method to set emissions standards that is based on what real world best performing units actually can achieve,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that the regulations should “be crafted in a balanced way that sustains both the environment and jobs.”

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