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EPA Announces Biggest Air Toxic Reduction in Agency History

[EPA press release - March 1, 1994]

EPA today announced a final rule to reduce by almost 90 percent toxic air emissions from the chemical industry, one of the biggest industrial sources of these pollutants. The Agency also announced a separate final rule for electric utility power plants to help reduce acid rain.

"This is the most far-reaching effort ever taken to reduce air toxics, and a giant step forward in protecting the health of our citizens," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "Today's rule signifies that the gridlock of the past on clean air controls has now been broken."

Browner also emphasized the pollution prevention and environmental justice aspects of the chemical industry rule, noting that more than 10 percent of all emission reductions under the regulation will result from pollution prevention techniques, such as using covers to prevent evaporation from storage tanks. In the chemical industry, evaporation prevention translates into significant product savings.

The rule also requires that all new and existing chemical plants meet the same strict standards, helping to improve health protection for all Americans living near or working in such facilities. "This is important to our concerns regarding environmental justice, since many communities near these industrial corridors tend to be poor or minority," Browner added.

The final rule affects about 370 chemical plants in 38 states, the majority in Texas, Louisiana and New Jersey.

The 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act list 189 air toxics that EPA must regulate from a variety of industries by the turn of the century. Today's rule reduces emissions of 112 of these toxics by 506,000 tons annually, an 88 percent reduction from current levels at chemical plants.

Although the rule is aimed at controlling air toxics, as a beneficial byproduct it will also significantly decrease levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the prime ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone (smog)--the nation's most pervasive air pollutant. VOC levels will drop by one million tons a year, an 81 percent reduction. These VOC cuts are equivalent to removing38 million cars from the road--about one-fourth of all U.S. cars.

Under today's rulemaking, chemical industry sources must achieve emission limits reflecting application of maximum achievable control technology, as defined by the Clean Air Act. For new sources, this means the standards must be as stringent as the emission control achieved in practice by the best controlled similar source anywhere in the country. For existing sources, the standards must be as stringent as the average emission control achieved by the best performing 12 percent of existing plants.

The rule contains an innovative compliance alternative called "emissions averaging," which chemical manufacturers can use only if approved by the state in which the plant operates. This option lets companies avoid excessive costs as long as public health is protected. Emissions averaging means that if a facility does not wish to control a particular pollution source, emissions from that source can be offset by emission reductions--greater than required by law--at other sources in the same plant. However, to insure environmental protection and enforceability, EPA has added strict requirements for the use of emissions averaging that didn't exist when the rule was proposed in the previous Administration. For instance, application of emissions averaging can only be used now by a small number of emission sources in a facility; also, any emissions averaging must result in an extra ten percent reduction in toxic emissions over what would have occurred if this option had not been used. In addition, emission averaging can only be utilized within one facility, not between different plants in different locations. An example of emissions averaging in practice would be a chemical plant that already has substantial pollution control technology in place, but because of today's rule would need new control technology. The emission averaging option may allow this plant to avoid ripping out existing controls if it can provide equivalent toxic reductions--plus an extra 10 percent--from elsewhere within the facility.

EPA estimates that the total nationwide capital costs of the rule to the chemical industry will be $450 million and total annual costs will be $230 million. These costs will result in a "worst-case" estimated chemical price increase to customers of less than three percent. EPA predicts no plant closures as a result of this rule.

Existing chemical industry sources must comply with today's rule within three years; new sources must comply immediately or on startup of operations, whichever occurs later.

Besides the chemical industry toxic rule, Browner also announced a final acid rain rule that will cut annual emissions of nitrogen oxide (Nox) by 1.8 million tons annually from 700 coal-fired electric utility power plants by the year 2000. Nox and sulfur dioxide (SO2) are the prime ingredients in the formation of acid rain, and today's rule complements the Agency's final acid rain rule for SO2 issued in January 1993.

Today's rule addresses dry bottom, wall-fired and tangentially-fired boilers. Beginning in 1995, 170 of these type boilers must meet EPA emission limits. Beginning in the year 2000, other types of boilers (numbering over 300) must also reduce their emissions. The Agency will establish the standards for other types of boilers in late 1996.

Under today's rule, a utility may either meet the EPA limit for each individual boiler, or join an "averaging pool" in which an overall emission average must be met. A utility can choose the type of technology to install under either of these options. If the utility cannot meet the emission standard with "low Nox burner technology," it may apply for a less stringent emission standard.

The rule also has a provision whereby boilers that don't have to meet EPA emission limits till 2000 can comply earlier if they wish. In return, they don't have to comply with the possibly more stringent standards until the year 2008.

"This rule promotes technology development, early emission reductions, and the lowest cost to the economy for the expected benefits," said Browner. "It will help make sure that acid rain no longer poisons our lakes and streams."

EPA today also announced four other air toxic rules to help protect public health.

One final rule establishes generic general provisions for all future air toxic standards under the Clean Air Act. The general provision rule will eliminate redundancy in general information that would have to be repeated each time a new standard is issued and it will maintain the consistency of future air toxic regulations. It will be the primary vehicle for informing industry of its basic compliance responsibilities under the Clean Air Act.

Another proposed rule provides the required guidance for implementing a provision of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments requiring maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for new, reconstructed and modified major sources of air toxics. New sources require stringent controls, while modified sources face less stringent limits.

Another proposed rule would reduce 4.6 million pounds of toxic air pollutants yearly from the magnetic tape manufacturing industry (makes audio cassettes, etc.). Most toxic sources in this industry would face air toxic reductions of 95 percent from uncontrolled levels.

An air toxic called ethylene oxide would be cut 2.2 million pounds annually under another proposed EPA rule controlling commercial sterilization operations such as those for medical equipment. The rule wold reduce this toxic at major sources by 99 percent from uncontrolled levels.

Under the Clean Air Act, states have the authority to toughen the federal EPA regulations announced today, but they cannot weaken them.