Progress ending air pollution from out-of-state

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    Progress ending air pollution from out-of-state

    In a little noticed decision January 9, the federal district court for the District of Columbia vacated a delay, announced in May of last year by U.S. EPA, of new EPA regulations for industrial boilers. [ Todd E. Palmer, Court vacates EPA stay of boiler MACT and CISWI rules, National Law Review, January 14, 2012, at ]

    EPA has worked on the rules since the Clinton administration. Together with the Cross-State Air Pollution rule issued December 21 and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule issued July 6, the boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule issued March 21 ends the "grandfathered" status of many older industrial facilities and requires them to reduce air emissions or close.

    Those regulations implement the federal Clean Air Amendments Act of 1990. The Clinton administration drug its heels for eight years. Then the Walker Bush administration tried to subvert the law, but it was reversed in a dramatic series of rulings from Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Industry-sponsored groups and their Congressional lackeys are foaming over the 2011 rules and pursuing challenges. They will probably be able to postpone actions for a few more years, but then the frightfully long delays will finally end.

    [ Jim Ashley, Sen. Alexander says EPA boiler MACT rule 'belongs on another planet,' Chattanooga Press (TN), June 15, 2011, at ]

    The federal rules issued last year extend to a national scope the revolution in air-pollution control that Massachusetts began in April, 2001, during the Republican Swift administration: an outcome from four years of political organizing in the state. At that time, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued new regulations that applied to the state's six largest power-plants. Requirements for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide took effect gradually over eight years, through October, 2008.

    Massachusetts must host the country's most dyspeptic environmental groups. Anywhere else, for a state that has suffered through decades of grievous air pollution, celebrations would break out. Except in a small corner of Nantucket, for the first time the state complies with all national air quality standards. So far the celebration consists of nothing but a legal notice, clearing the last major "nonattainment" area: ozone in western Massachusetts.

    [ Determination of attainment of the 1997 ozone standard for the western Massachusetts nonattainment area, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 77 FR 3220, January 23, 2012, at ]

    Massachusetts is now well into a second generation of rules, with newer limits on emissions of mercury and other "hazardous air pollutants" and restrictions on biomass-burning plants. The 2011 federal rules are mostly softer than the new generations of rules in Massachusetts, but they will help with pollution such as sulfur dioxide and airborne mercury that has been drifting in from other states.

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    Today's power-plant scoundrels

    Current power-plant scoundrels call themselves "waste to energy," but the federal and state name for them is "municipal waste combustor"--generating electricity by burning refuse. Most in Massachusetts opened during the 1980s: five plants classed by U.S. EPA as "large" and two classed as "small."

    Plant name and location     Heat, 2007   Operator, 2011
    ----------------------------------       --------------    -------------------------
    SEMASS, Rochester           10.7 TBtu    Covanta
    Ogden Martin, Haverhill         6.0 TBtu    Covanta
    Wheelabrator, Millbury          5.2 TBtu    Waste Management
    Wheelabrator, Saugus          4.6 TBtu    Waste Management
    Wheelabrator, N. Andover     4.0 TBtu    Waste Management
    Pioneer Valley, Agawam       0.5 TBtu    Covanta
    Vicon, Pittsfield                      N/A         Covanta

    Vicon Pittsfield is primarily a steam plant serving a paper mill, rather than an electricity generating plant. [ eGrid Database, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for operations in 2000, 2004 and 2007, at ]

    Under state requirements, between 2002 and 2008 the municipal waste combustors cleaned up their mercury emissions but did little about other types of air pollution. As other power-plants reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, the shares emitted by the municipal waste combustors grew, until they became the largest sources of both nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide among Massachusetts power-plants:

    Shares by year      2007    2004    2000
    Power generation      4%      4%      5%
    Nitrogen oxides        52%    20%   10%
    Sulfur dioxide           39%      1%     1%

    While sulfur dioxide pollution in Massachusetts has been much reduced, Massachusetts barely meets the ozone standard, so nitrogen oxides emitted by municipal waste combustors remain a substantial hazard. Municipal waste combustors in the state have controls to reduce nitrogen oxides, but they are ineffective, compared with current operations at most of the state's other power-plants.

    In contrast to stronger standards for conventional power-plants and boilers, U.S. EPA lags in addressing pollution from municipal waste combustors. Most current standards were issued by the Clinton administration in 1995. Emission limits were slightly reduced by the Walker Bush administration in 2006. The EPA limit for nitrogen oxides at most Massachusetts plants is 230 ppmv in stack gases, referenced to 7 percent oxygen. The state has an erratic record with its permits, allowing daily emission limits from 192 to 250 ppmv.

    Compared with state-of-the-art combustion, those are incredibly filthy burners. Technology is now achieving nitrogen oxide emissions of less than 50 ppmv for coal and 10 ppmv for natural gas. The most effective techniques, staged combustion and selective catalytic reduction, are not used by municipal waste combustors, but they have been proven to work, as a "Maximum Available Control Technology" that is specified by law.

    [ Richard F. Abrams and Robert Faia, Selective catalytic reduction system to reduce NOx emissions from boilers, Proceedings of the 17th Annual North American Waste-to-Energy Conference, 2009, at ]

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    Re: Progress ending air pollution from out-of-state

    The tag line is incorrect. We cannot end pollution from the airspace anymore than stopping aircraft in flight to collect tolls. But at least a long fought battle has gotten some results. The issue is that mass and other new england states were facing air pollution fines and sanctions. But much of the pollution came across the border.
     Depending on the site nox pollution in mass is not an ozone issue. It really depends on the wind and appdev fails on this point. Air monitoring in mass at point sites does not equal issues for ozone. Attainment for ozone is complex and not really a mass state emission issue. Just my 2 from the frontline. Appdev does not care about the actual issues just what he can find. I actually did this work and contact the state air monitoring folk regularly with respect to attainment issues.
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    Actual issues turned out political

    The previous reader, who rarely originates and never explains a topic, seems instead to like parading as some sort of expert yet never contributes more than unsupported opinions of the "trust me" sort. In this quarter, over fifty years of attention to power and pollution control technologies taught an uncomfortable lesson: the "actual issues" more often revolve around politics than technologies.

    During the second and third years of the Obama administration, political stars aligned so that long-delayed implementation of the 1990 Clean Air Amendments Act reached stages of final regulations that might help. There will be at least five and possibly ten years of uncertainty ahead, to see whether they will survive torrents of lawsuits and political counter-efforts, already well underway, and will then achieve results.

    From the 1990 CAAA, so far we have gotten only a first-pass effort in the mid-1990s at regulating emissions of existing facilities plus the Acid Rain Program, which proved remarkably successful. Adequate technology to reduce sulfur dioxide had long been available. The success of that program was driven by politics. The commitments made in a 1991 treaty with Canada broke a 20-year logjam.

    Pollution from the state's municipal waste combustors won't produce international attention or, in most cases, even attention from neighboring states. The critical impacts are within several miles of the plants. So far, no statewide politics has coalesced around the issues. That was the phenomemon leading to progress Massachusetts made over the past 15 years with its large power-plants.

    [ Ann Shibler, Congress should reject EPA's boiler MACT regulations, John Birch Society, September 21, 2011, at ]
    [ Joe Bryson, EPA's air regulations and CHP, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, October 5, 2011, at ]
    [ Gabriel Nelson, Lawsuits pour in before deadline to challenge EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, New York Times, October 10, 2011, at ]
    [ Lisa Heinzerling, Missing a teachable moment, American Constitution Society, November, 2011, at ]
    [ Jed Winer, 20 years in the making: EPA issues mercury and air toxics standards, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, December 23, 2011, at ]