Many companies and institutions have boilers for heat or emergency and auxiliary power and have not been subject to much regulation other than a random state or county permit. That blissful state is now over. With the adoption of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boiler Area Sources (Area Source Boiler MACT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now regulates many of these small power plants. While the requirements are far less onerous than for large electrical generating units, they still require compliance demonstrations, control efforts and time-consuming paperwork to be filed with the EPA. Since many of these boilers are located at schools, hospitals and smaller companies which tend to lack large environmental staff to monitor these requirements, the possibility of enforcement actions and fines is significant.
Requirements for area source boilers
An area source boiler is an enclosed combustion vessel that heats water for power or warmth and does not emit sufficient quantities of pollutants to qualify as a “major source” under the Clean Air Act (CAA). By now, most owners know whether their boiler qualifies as a major source, so if you are unsure, then it is probably an area source boiler. There is no minimum threshold so the rules apply to an existing boiler of any size in a non-residential application. Fortunately, there are exemptions, including hot water heaters, electric boilers and boilers regulated under other laws. Gas-fired boilers are also exempt so long as they limit the use of liquid fuels only to start up boiler operations and emergencies when gas is cut off.
Once one determines that the rules apply to their boiler, the requirements vary depending on the age, the fuel and the size. For example, coal-fired boilers larger than 10 million BTU/hour (a measurement of heat input) must satisfy the most stringent requirements, including meeting emission limits for particulate matter, carbon monoxide and mercury; performing initial compliance measurements to determine their baseline emissions; and monitoring to document compliance. Existing boilers (i.e., boilers in operation before 2010) fueled by coal, oil or biomass larger than 10 mm BTU/hr must perform Energy Assessments to document that the system is energy efficient. In contrast, existing boilers fueled by oil or biomass smaller than 10 mm BTU/hr do not need to meet emissions limits, but must meet “work practice standards.” For the most part, these are periodic inspections to verify that the heating and air movement equipment is operating as efficiently as possible for optimum combustion.
All of these systems have paperwork requirements that must be submitted to the EPA almost immediately. The owners must submit an Initial Notification to the EPA by Jan. 20, 2014, a Notification of Compliance by July 18, 2014, and the Annual Compliance Certification by March 1, of every succeeding year. The larger coal-burning boilers require periodic compliance testing, but smaller oil and biomass boilers must document performance of their work practice standards.
These rules also must be evaluated by owners and developers of energy systems that use alternative fuels such as used cooking oil or recovered agricultural products. Many of these systems were designed to be smaller than the major source threshold in order to avoid the most stringent CAA rules, but would be regulated under these rules. In addition, such owners and developers must be certain that the alternative fuel that they plan to use does not constitute a “waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Not only would that place the source under the much more stringent waste incinerator rules, but it might also subject the operation to waste facility stilting requirements.
In short, the Area Source Boiler MACT rules are relatively easy to follow (for EPA rules), but many owners may not know that the rules apply to their sources because they do not have a history of being regulated. The new compliance dates are quickly approaching, and, while the EPA may be initially lenient, they may also want to create a few example cases to raise awareness of the rule. Many owners may simply switch to natural gas, but several will not have that choice due to the cost, the lack of availability, or because their business requires them to use alternative fuels. For those owners and their counsel, understanding these rules is essential.