Bipartisan Senate bill would delay, alter EPA boiler rule

The regulations have come under fire in recent months from industry groups, Republicans and some Democrats, who say that the rules would impose huge costs on facilities and result in job losses.

“The EPA performs vital functions in helping to protect the public health by ensuring that the air we breathe is clean and the water we drink is safe,” Collins said in a statement on the bill. “We need, however, to make sure that as the EPA issues new regulations, it does not create so many roadblocks to economic growth that it discourages private investment, which is the key to maintaining and creating jobs.”

A slew of major industry groups threw their support behind the legislation Wednesday, including the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Association of Manufacturing, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

"If enacted, the [bill] will provide the much-needed certainty and time for EPA to get the rules right and for businesses that will be investing billions of dollars to rationally plan for the capital expenses," the industry groups said in a letter Wednesday to the Senate co-sponsors of the bill. "This legislation will preserve jobs and the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing sector while protecting the environment."

But environmental and clean-air groups say the rules are essential for protecting public health. EPA, for its part, says the regulations will prevent thousands of deaths and heart attacks at a reasonable cost to industry.

"Delays bring a steep cost in public health damage," Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell said. "This could mean potentially thousands of unnecessary premature deaths, according to EPA’s estimates."

The Senate legislation specifies that EPA’s existing boiler regulations “are of no force or effect, shall be treated as though such rules had never taken effect, and shall be replaced.”

The bill also mandates that EPA gives facilities at least five years to comply with the rules — two years more than EPA’s current compliance period.

EPA must also take into account the cost, feasibility and impact on jobs of the reworked regulations, according to the bill.

The legislation echoes a bill introduced in the House in June. But it includes biomass provisions added to win Wyden’s support for the bill. Biomass is a major industry in Wyden’s state of Oregon.

The bill specifies that boilers can burn biomass without violating a solid-waste disposal law and it instructs EPA to issue a list of materials that can be burned in boilers that specifically includes “all forms of biomass.”

“As they are written now, the rules will stymie the burgeoning biomass energy industry and make it very difficult for existing lumber and wood products mills to operate,” Wyden said in the statement. “This legislation directs the EPA to go back to the drawing board and craft boiler rules that are more in line with what is realistic for mills and factories and does not restrict future use of biomass energy.”

EPA unveiled revised boiler regulations in February under a court-ordered deadline. Because the rules were significantly different than a previous iteration of the regulations, the agency said it would halt implementation until it received additional public comment.

EPA plans to issue a revised proposal in October and revised final rules by the end of April 2012.

—This story was updated at 4:03 p.m.