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Policy & Regulatory Briefing: Boiler Rule Delay, Coal Ash, Waste-to-Energy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying the implementation of standards for industrial boilers and incinerators. The EPA released the final Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators in February. At the time, the agency said it would “reconsider” certain aspects of the rules, and seek further public comment on those portions. But on Monday, the EPA said it will issue a stay postponing the effective date for the overall rules. The agency said it would solicit additional comments and information on the standards until July 15, and will then propose an updated rule. The EPA made the original proposals in April 2010 and received more than 4,800 comments. Last December it requested additional time to review, but a court only granted the agency 30 days – resulting in the February “final” rules. “The agency is reconsidering the standards because the public did not have sufficient opportunity to comment on these changes, and, as a result, further public review and feedback is needed,” the EPA said. The regulations are aimed at reducing toxic air emissions, including mercury, soot and dioxins.

Nine of 38 coal ash impoundments evaluated by the EPA received “poor” ratings in structural integrity reports released yesterday. The poor ratings were given because the units lacked some of the necessary engineering documentation required in the assessments, and not because the units are unsafe, the agency said.

The EPA  released action plans developed by 20 electric utility facilities with 70 coal ash impoundments, describing the measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer. The action plans are a response to EPA’s final assessment reports on the structural integrity of these impoundments, made public last May. Coal ash came to prominent national attention in 2008, with the failure of a Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment holding disposed coal ash waste in Kingston, Tenn. The resulting spill released more than five million cubic yards of coal ash to the surrounding area. Shortly afterwards, EPA began overseeing the cleanup, as well as investigating the structural integrity of impoundments where coal ash waste is stored. The agency is developing national rules that it says will ensure safe, long-term disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants.

The Senate defeated a Democratic proposal to ax about $20 billion in tax subsidies for oil companies, CNN reported. Three Democrats and two Republicans crossed the aisle in the 52-48 vote, keeping the bill from reaching its needed 60 votes. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the bill would “raise the price of gasoline at the pump, export American jobs and make us more dependent on people like (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez because the amount of oil we’ll have to import will go up.” CNN says the vote was largely symbolic, because Democrats would have needed help from at least seven Republicans in order to pass the bill.

Today the Senate will vote on a Republican measure to increase domestic oil production through new exploration and drilling, but neither party expects the bill to pass, CNN said. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chair of the Senate energy and natural resources committee, is skeptical on the chances for President Obama’s proposed clean energy standard, Greenwire reports for the New York Times. Bingaman said he and the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), are reviewing about 300 responses to a white paper on the proposed legislation, which would require utilities to derive a certain proportion of their electricity from renewables, nuclear energy, natural gas and coal with carbon capture. Neither Murkowski nor any other Republican has yet endorsed the proposal.

From tomorrow, companies drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale must stop bringing polluted wastewater to riverside treatment plants. Some industry leaders told the AP that there are few disposal alternatives, and some companies may stop drilling temporarily until they find a new way to get rid of wastewater. The administration of governor Tom Corbett asked drillers to stop using the plants last month amid increasing concern over potential drinking water contamination.

Maryland governor Martin O’Malley said yesterday that he’ll sign a bill to treat waste as a renewable energy source for the purpose of the state’s renewable energy standard. More than 30 environmental and clean-energy groups called on O’Malley to veto the bill, the Baltimore Sun reports. They argued that treating waste-to-energy as a renewable source on par with wind and solar would discourage recycling and reduce incentives for preferable forms of renewable energy. Maryland law requires the state’s utilities to derive 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2022.

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