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Understanding the Court Decision on the Air Toxics Standards for Boilers

by Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation

In March 2011, EPA finalized rules to regulate emissions of air toxics, including mercury, from large industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators.  EPA decided to keep the standards from going into effect, however, because we wanted to make sure the rules reflected new information and additional public comments. In December 2011, EPA re-proposed the rules that reflect new information and we expect to finalize them later this year. EPA and the Obama Administration are committed to these standards and the significant health benefits for our children and our families.

Last week the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision that ended EPA’s stay of the original March 2011 rules. After an initial review of the court’s decision, EPA is not aware of any sources that might be adversely affected. In addition, the EPA will continue to examine the decision and work with permitting authorities and industry to address any issues that might arise.

Specifically, using our enforcement discretion, EPA will issue a no action assurance letter shortly, informing sources that EPA will not enforce any of the administrative notification requirements in the old rules for a period of time while EPA works to finalize the rules by spring of this year.

All this to say, EPA looks forward to finalizing the rules on an expedited basis later this year as they are projected to avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, prevent 5,100 heart attacks and avert 52,000 asthma attacks per year in 2015.  They will keep the health benefits of the original rules, while significantly reducing the cost of compliance to industry. The standards would focus on the less than one percent of boilers that emit the majority of pollution from this sector and are based on currently available technologies that are in use by sources across the country.

Looking ahead, the final, rewritten rules will address the compliance date for existing boilers and incinerators. Though the final rules need to reflect comments received during the public comment process, it is EPA’s current intention to work toward final standards that give existing sources the full time allowed under the Clean Air Act –with a possibility that some sources could request an additional year from the States.

In the meantime, this Administration will oppose attempts to take away EPA’s ability to complete the standards and deliver overdue safeguards to the American public. The Obama Administration is fully committed to reducing mercury, dioxin and other harmful pollutants from boilers in our communities. The Court’s decision will not impact our ability to deliver on that promise.

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