According to the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, the proposed Boiler and Industrial Process Heater hazardous air pollutant rules will cost the nation 300,000 jobs by the time they take effect, because compliance will be costly when it is possible at all. Ironically, the biomass power generation industry, highly touted as an alternative to fossil-fuel power, is concerned that the boiler MACT will simply shut down this fledgling industry. You have to wonder what EPA is thinking, but you also have to prepare. What is this regulatory nightmare?

The Industrial Boiler and Process Heater NESHAP (national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants) was originally promulgated in 2004. The rule is more commonly known as the “boiler MACT,” meaning the maximum achievable control technology. MACT standards for hazardous air pollutants are set by U.S. EPA for many industries and represent what EPA believes to be the best emissions controls achieved by the top performers in a given industry. These limits are then established for all companies in the industry, with newly constructed sources subject to the most stringent standards.

The original boiler MACT was vacated by the courts in 2007. EPA proposed new rules earlier this year and the public comment period recently ended. The final boiler MACT is expected in time for Christmas, and will likely become effective in 2013 or 2014.

Why is industry scared? For starters, the proposed rule sets emission limits tougher than the 2004 rule, especially for mercury and other metal hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). There will be new limits for carbon monoxide and dioxins/furans, previously uncontrolled for most boilers.

The proposed emission limits will apply at all times, including during startup, shutdown, and malfunction periods. This is a significant departure from normal MACT practice. In addition, new stack testing requirements and operational restrictions are established so that affect6ed sources may demonstrate continuous compliance.

The new boiler MACT will fall hardest on boilers using fuels other than natural gas and with a heat input capacity greater than 10 million Btu per hour (10 MMBtu). Boilers using natural gas and boilers less than 10 MMBtu will be subject mainly to work practice standards, such as annual or biennial tune-ups, but owners will also have to notify EPA of their existence and keep meticulous records of their operations.

EPA estimates that about 13,500 large boilers will be affected by the new boiler MACT. Most of these burn natural gas and will be subject mainly to new work practice standards. However, about 2,000 boilers burn fuels other than natural gas and will be subject to the new, more stringent emission limits.

According to many industry groups, the new limits are simply not achievable. Carbon monoxide and dioxin/furans were not previously regulated under a MACT, and the control of these emissions is poorly understood. Most affected large boilers will need fabric filters (baghouses) to control particulate emissions; currently, few have them. EPA estimates the average cost of compliance for each large affected source will be $8 million.

Although most boilers will be subject to the less stringent notification, recordkeeping and work practice standards, all affected sources must realize that EPA takes these requirements as seriously as emission limits. Many boiler owners will find they are subject to air rules for the first time, but their inexperience will not relieve them from enforcement for noncompliance. Furthermore, new regulations for natural-gas fired and small boilers previously thought to be “clean” may be a harbinger of yet more stringent requirements down the road.

While the hardest hit industries will continue lobbying to undo the most draconian aspects of the boiler MACT, any industry with a boiler or process heater must prepare by studying the proposed rules and making compliance plans. It is not too soon to place future notification and reporting deadlines on the tickle file, since such requirements are easily overlooked. Expect new requirements to appear in air permits. Many sources that did not previously need air permits for boilers may need them now. As the regulatory landscape becomes more complex, increased vigilance and planning is the best defense.