EPA to review parts of MATS rule based on industry input

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said July 20 that it will take a limited look at possible changes to the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which drew immediate applause from Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (EERC).

ERCC is a group of energy companies working on common sense clean air and other regulatory issues, including sensible approaches to the regulation of coal-fired energy.

“Today, EPA has finally admitted what we have known for a very long time: there are significant technical flaws in the way the MATS standards were set,” Segal said in a July 20 statement. “The MATS rule is one of the most expensive rules in Clean Air Act history and is widely anticipated to cost some $300 billion and 2-2.5 million full time jobs. The letter EPA sent to the new source petitioners references ‘measurement issues,’ meaning that the new source MATS level for mercury was likely set so low that monitoring equipment couldn’t even measure it. It also references ‘data set’ issues, meaning that the EPA likely cherry-picked facilities for establishing a baseline in such a way as to make the rule unachievable in practice. While the EPA is only acting for new sources today, it is fair commentary to observe that these and similar issues may well be in play for rule as it applies to the existing fleet of power plants.”

“In agreeing to reconsider emissions standards for new power plants, the EPA is acknowledging that its standards are unachievable,” said Ken Anderson, executive vice president and general manager of Westminster, Colo.-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a consumer-owned, not-for-profit power supplier serving throughout the West. “Tri-State filed suit against EPA’s flawed rule to ensure the interests of electric consumers are protected. The agency should now review the comments of industry and technology vendors and come back with a regulatory standard that has a proper timeframe and is rooted in the realities of science and engineering.”

POWER4Georgians said July 23 that among the projects being reconsidered is its coal-fired Plant Washington project. In a July 20 letter to attorneys for POWER4Georgians, the EPA said it would reconsider its proposed new source standards for mercury, particulate matter and acid gases.

“This is good news for Plant Washington and we thank the EPA for its decision to reconsider these important standards,” said Dean Alford, spokesperson for POWER4Georgians. “We are committed to being in full compliance with the Clean Air Act and believe this is a very positive step in that direction.”

POWER4Georgians said it was the only new unit developer among many organizations that petitioned the EPA for reconsideration of air toxics standards the agency released in February. POWER4Georgians contended the new rules failed to comply with the Clean Air Act. In its letter to POWER4Georgians’ attorneys, the EPA said it will expedite its reconsideration of the new rules and ensure that standards for new sources such as Plant Washington are achievable and measurable.

EPA says this reconsideration impacts five projects

EPA in a July 20 public statement that the review was prompted by new information filed by parties. “This review, which is not an uncommon step for major standards, will have no impact on the sensible, achievable, and cost-effective standards already set for existing power plants, which will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution,” EPA added. “By moving quickly to review the new information, this action will provide greater certainty for five planned future facilities, in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Utah, that would be covered by the standards. This review will not change the expected costs or public health benefits of the rule.”

EPA said it will review monitoring issues related to the mercury standards for new power plants and will address other technical issues on the acid gas and particle pollution standards for these plants. The agency said its review will not change the types of state-of-the-art pollution controls new power plants are expected to use to reduce pollution.

This type of review, known as a “reconsideration,” is a routine tool that EPA said it often uses to ensure that its standards incorporate all relevant information, in cases where information only becomes available after a rule is promulgated. The agency’s decision to reconsider the standards for new sources reflects its ongoing commitment to work with industry and other stakeholders to ensure that all of EPA’s standards protect public health while being achievable and cost-effective. The agency will follow an expedited, open and transparent process that includes public comment on any proposed changes. The agency said it will complete the rulemaking by March 2013 and will also use its Clean Air Act authority to stay the final standards for new power plants for three months during this review.

In December 2011, EPA signed this rule to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants from power plants, with most of the impacts on coal-fired plants across the U.S. MATS will reduce emissions of heavy metals, including mercury (Hg), arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), and nickel (Ni); and acid gases, including hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hydrofluoric acid (HF).

Existing sources generally will have up to four years if they need it to comply with MATS. This includes the three years provided to all sources by the Clean Air Act. Under the Clean Air Act, state permitting authorities can also grant an additional year as needed for technology installation.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.