EPA proposes changing Clinton-era standards

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 17, 2018

In a fresh step to relax regulations on power plants and other large industrial polluters, EPA is moving to change Clinton-era requirements for monitoring nitrogen oxides emissions.

The proposed rule, signed yesterday by acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, would give states the option of dropping a requirement that such large sources use what are known as “continuous emission monitoring systems” to track their summertime releases of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a key ingredient in ozone.

The mandate dates back to the 1998 so-called NOx SIP Call, which currently requires 20 states and the District of Columbia to curb seasonal emissions linked to downwind ozone formation outside their borders. In now seeking to allow states to substitute undefined “alternate monitoring requirements,” EPA predicted the change could save some companies money.

But because the plan would not alter statewide caps on NOx pollution or enforceable limits for pollution sources, EPA expects it “would have no impact on emissions or air quality,” the proposal says.

The agency plans to have the final version in place by November, according to a schedule listed in its latest semiannual regulatory agenda.

Besides coal-fired power plants, the planned change could also affect paper mills, chemical manufacturing facilities and oil refineries. The draft rule, which offers no estimates on the potential savings, suggests the bulk of the benefits would fall to industries outside the power sector.

While the draft rule says several states had expressed interest in changing monitoring requirements, an EPA spokeswoman did not reply to emailed questions seeking more information on the exact impetus for the proposal.

“It’s not something that my members were asking for,” Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose membership includes 35 state air regulators, said in an interview this morning.

But the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, a separate group of regulators mainly from the South and West, had flagged the NOx SIP Call monitoring requirements in a filing last year that called them “overly burdensome” and costly for businesses outside the power industry.

Clint Woods, the association’s executive director at the time, is now the deputy chief of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Woods did not immediately answer an email this afternoon asking whether the proposed rule is a response to that concern and whether he was involved in putting it together.

A spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, had no immediate comment. At the National Association of Manufacturers, another trade organization that works on ozone issues, Michael Short, senior director of strategic communications, responded “no” when asked in an email whether the group sought the proposed change or had a position on it.

Environmental groups, while still studying the proposal, questioned the rationale. “It does strike me with all the problems out there, it’s a misuse of resources to focus on deregulation,” Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said in an email.

Given that companies have now had continuous monitoring systems in place for many years, “it just doesn’t make sense,” said John Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is a lung irritant linked to asthma attacks in children and worsened breathing problems in adults with emphysema and other chronic respiratory diseases.

The exact number of facilities that could take advantage of a shift to alternate NOx monitoring requirements would ultimately hinge on how many states chose to grant that option.

Although the proposed rule does not furnish an estimate on the total number of plants that could be affected, it says about 310 “units” — a figure that encompasses large electric generating units, as well as boilers and turbines used in other industries — are subject to the current monitoring requirements.

Because most large power plants are now covered by similar monitoring requirements under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Acid Rain Program, EPA predicted most would not be affected by the proposed change.

The proposed rule will carry a 30-day public comment period when published in the Federal Register. If it is made final, EPA intends to have it take effect immediately.

After the NOx SIP Call was issued in 1998, implementation of emission controls began in 2003.

Under the new proposal, states that could drop the requirement for continuous monitoring include Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri.

Also covered are New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia.