Nick Hutson gave an update on the new MATS (mercury and air toxics standard). MATS replaced CAMR (the Clean Air Mercury Rule) which never made it past the legal arguments and industrial and public review. However MATS is also undergoing a rough ride and the final version of the proposal was only signed on Nov 16th 2012. The latest version will be published in the Federal Register on Nov 30 with a 30 comment period. Following further public comment, the MATS SHOULD be finalised by March 2013. The MATS covers around 1,400 coal-fired units (>25 MW) at around 600 power plants in the USA. Some plants are already seeking leniency and extensions. More information is available at: www.epa.govmats
Amanda Curry-Brown explained how the MATS rule is now pretty much compulsory since there is an obligation for the EPA to take action (in the form of BAT/MACT requirements) if it is shown that the cost-benefits in terms of health effects as a result of controls on certain pollutants are above a certain threshold. The health benefits of MATS have been estimated in terms of billions, due to reduced illness days, asthma and increased IQ effects. Over and above this, MATS is expected to result in the creation of around 60,000 new jobs in the construction and energy sector. The increase in electricity prices as a result of MATS is estimated at lower than 1/10 of a %.
Ray Merrill and Jeff Ryan presented details on the new PS 18 (performance standard) for HCl monitoring which is required under MATS, concentrating on dealing with interference from other flue gases and the low levels of detection required by the standard. The standard should be finalised (following field studies) in time to support the standard when it is finalised in early 2013.
Connie Senior (ADS ES) gave an excellent review of the pollution control technology options available to plants for compliance with MATS. The plants facing the greatest challenges tend to be those firing high-sulphur bituminous coals. Issues with re-emission of mercury from wet FGD systems need to be addressed. Plants firing Powder River Basin coals may require alternatives to SO3 injection for flue gas conditioning if activated carbon is the mercury control system of choice. Lower temperatures at the air heater exit will help reduce the amount of carbon required for mercury capture. Off record discussions over lunch afterwards dealt with how many plants can comply with all the new emission standards – but not necessarily all at the same time. There was joking about asking regulators which legislation was the least important and could be “forgiven”. Many plants can comply with all the new legislation by installing state of the art control systems but are finding that, as a result, they are losing fly ash sales, thus lowering plant income whilst creating a new disposal problem.
Andrea Field (Hunton Williams (LLP) talked about the CSAPR (Cross-state air pollution rule) which was intended to replace the CAIR (clean air interstate rule). However, CSAPR has been vacated (thrown out) by the court in DC. Both rules aimed to tighten controls on NOx and SO2 and to ensure that emissions from one State do not cause any other State to fail NAAQS (national ambient air quality standards). At this point, there are further rounds of rehearing to be completed before it is clear whether a review of CSAPR is anywhere near completion or whether the US EPA will need to create yet another legislative format to deal with cross-state pollution issues. In the meantime, however, CAIR still applies.
Beth Hassett-Sipple gave an update on the NAAQS (national air quality standards). It seems that, even if the US EPA manages to finalise legislation and get it approved and promulgated, the legislation has a limited shelf-life and must be reviewed and updated at regular intervals. The review for the NAAQS was late (beyond 5 years) and so the EPA was sued to take immediate action to update the standards. The review includes tightening of the ambient air quality limits for fine particulates (PM2.5). Public hearings have been held and over 230,000 comments received. The final rule should be signed on Dec 14 2012.
If I have learned anything from this AWMA/EPA meeting it is that the legislative process of rule-making in the USA is long, laborious and fraught with counter-actions, arguments and challenges. In the last few years the USA has seen proposed standards such as CAMR and CSAPR being vacated (effectively thrown-out of court) whilst others such as MATS have become significantly delayed as the US EPA attempts to appease all stakeholders and take on board concerns from state regulators, NGOs, utilities and the public. Even when these rules are finally promulgated, there are often still appeals and derogations for those who find the rules too challenging and the decisions on how to deal with these appeals are made on a case by case basis.