EPA’s new standards for boiler pollution reflect business concerns but still protect public health

On February 21st the EPA released the final Clean Air Act toxic pollution limits for industrial boilers and incinerators. The protections represent a change from the EPA’s original April 2010 proposal, which was modified after regulated businesses raised cost concerns during the public comment period.

The newly streamlined standards will still significantly reduce toxic air pollution while halving the compliance price tag. CAP’s Lee Hamill has the details. Starting in 2014, the new standards will annually prevent an estimated 2,600–6,600 premature deaths, 4,100 heart attacks and42,000 asthma attacks, all while saving the nation a projected $23–56 billion in health-related costs. Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, or NACAA, said,

NACAA is pleased that EPA has issued its long-awaited rules that will reduce mercury, benzene, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants from thousands of industrial facilities across the country. The benefits are huge and far outweigh the costs.

The measures will also generate 2,200 new jobs.

Industry convinced EPA to modify the rules to reduce their total compliance cost by $1.8 billion. Despite these changes, however, big oil and dirty coal allies continue to attack EPA safeguards in Congress. On February 18th, the House voted in favor of an amendment proposed by Texas Republicans Ted Poe, Joe Barton, and John Carter to prevent the EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, oil refineries, and other stationary sources for the next seven months. This amendment does not affect the final rules announced on February 21st since the compliance is 2014 for boilers and 2016 for incinerators.


Americans overwhelmingly support rules to reduce air pollution. An American Lung Association poll from mid-February found overwhelming support for such policies. The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, reaffirmed this view with its 20 new surveys (one national and 19 congressional district-specific) that demonstrate overwhelming public backing for the EPA’s standards. The polls were taken in districts of anti-clean air representatives. For instance, 64 percent of Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s (R-MN) and 56 percent of Rep. John Boehner’s (R-OH) constituents choose air pollution reductions even if they “increase manufacturers’ energy costs and make it more difficult to compete.” And a full 70 percent of Rep. Lou Barletta’s (R-PA) support the EPA in setting pollution limits. The Michigan Messenger determined that “Michigan Reps buck constituents on EPA carbon vote,” highlighting that these representatives were disconnected from their voters’ views.

Despite this show of public approval, each of the representatives (except for Speaker of the House Boehner, since the speaker traditionally rarely votes) voted in favor of major anti-EPA bills such as the Texas Republicans’ amendment. They also voted for Rep. Mark Pompeo’s (R-KS) amendment that reduces EPA Programs and Management funding by $8.5 million, and Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX) amendment, which prevents the EPA from using funding to implement cement kiln air pollution rules.

It is unclear whether the House Republican leadership will attempt to undo the new toxic air pollution rules for boilers. Although cutting the cleanup cost in half is very valuable, it may not be enough to stop key congressional players from attacking essential health safeguards.

The EPA reaffirmed its commitment to health-saving, cost-effective pollution safeguards with their new Clean Air Act standards for boilers and incinerators. Anti-public health legislators should note that such measures remain very popular with their constituents.

By Lee Hamill, CAP Energy Policy Intern.