Will we be breathing easier in 2012? EPA releases new air pollution regulations

As you may have seen, the U.S. EPA signed a rule on December 16, 2011 to reduce air pollution from power plants. Many are against the new directives, while others are applauding the EPA’s initiative to drastically reduce harmful emissions from industrial emitters. Regardless of your position, it is imperative that we all learn more about the new ruling and its effects on many industries.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the new rule:

The U.S. EPA signed a rule to reduce mercury and air toxics emissions from power plants, and also signed revisions to the new source performance standards (NSPS) for fossil-fuel-fired EGUs. This NSPS revises the standards that new coal- and oil-fired power plants must meet for particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule (MATS) applies to Emission Generating Units (EGUs) larger than 25 megawatts (MW) that burn coal or oil for the purpose of generating electricity for sale and distribution through the national electric grid to the public.  These include investor-owned units, as well as units owned by the Federal government, municipalities and cooperatives that provide electricity for commercial, industrial and residential uses.  The EPA estimates that there are approximately 1,400 units affected by this action – approximately 1,100 existing coal-fired units and 300 oil fired units at about 600 power plants.

The final MATS identifies two subcategories of coal-fired EGUs, four subcategories of oil- fired EGUs, and a subcategory for units that combust gasified coal or solid oil (integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) units) based on the design, utilization and/or location of the various types of boilers at different power plants. The rule includes emission standards and/or other requirements for each subcategory.

For all existing and new coal-fired EGUs, the rule establishes numerical emission limits for mercury, PM (a surrogate for toxic non-mercury metals), and HCl (a surrogate for all toxic acid gases).  For existing and new oil-fired EGUs, the standards establish numerical emission limits for PM (a surrogate for all toxic metals), HCl, and HF.  EGUs may also show compliance with the HCl and HF limits by limiting the moisture content of their oil.

The rule establishes alternative numeric emission standards, including SO2 (as an alternate to HCl), individual non-mercury metal air toxics (as an alternate to PM), and total non-mercury metal air toxics (as an alternate to PM) for certain subcategories of power plants.  The standards set work practices, instead of numerical limits, to limit emissions of organic air toxics, including dioxin/furan, from existing and new coal- and oil-fired power plants. Because dioxins and furans form as a result of inefficient combustion, the work practice standards require an annual performance test program for each unit that includes inspection, adjustment, and/or maintenance and repairs to ensure optimal combustion.  The standards also set work practices for limited-use oil-fired EGUs in the continental U.S.


Topics: Environmental, Greenhouse Gas (GHG), EPA, Coal Industry