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Companies burning coal in boilers challenged by new EPA rules

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Companies still using coal-fired boilers will be most affected by December revisions to federal rules for air emissions from industrial boilers and process heaters, years in the making.

"I don't think there will be a single company in the state who burns coal in a boiler who will continue to burn coal on the compliance date three years from April 1," said Rick Wilson, environmental engineer and president at Acacia Environmental Group consultants in Clarksburg and Charleston.

"I think they'll have to switch," Wilson said. "Companies around the state that burn wood could have difficulty with compliance, too — and even if they can comply, it will increase their costs."

An estimated 1.5 million boilers in operation across the U.S. make steam at industrial facilities and, from that, electricity or heat.

Most burn natural gas or propane and do not emit regulated hazardous air pollutants, or HAPs.

But for those that burn dirtier fuels — coal, for example, or oil or wood — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working for more than a decade on rules to regulate HAPs that can include mercury, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide.

Finalized in December were two sets of boiler MACT — maximum achievable control technology — rules. One rule establishes emissions standards for major sources, or those with the potential to emit more than 10 tons per year of any single HAP or 25 tons per year of HAPs in total. The other is for minor, or "area," sources.

Of the 200,000 affected boilers nationwide, most will need only regular tune-ups to minimize emissions and to meet reporting requirements.

About 2,300 will have to meet specific numeric emissions limits.

Who is affected in West Virginia?

It's not immediately obvious, because the universe of industrial boilers is varied and the boilers are located just about everywhere, and also because the rules are new and not yet entirely clear to regulators and operators.

But the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality will know more soon, according to DAQ Supervisor for Compliance and Enforcement Robert Keatley, as companies file initial notifications to let the division know they fall under the regulations.

Based on filings that came in under a past, challenged version of the boiler MACT rules, DAQ is aware of 18 facilities that may be subject to the major source rules and about 40 that may be subject to the area source rules, Keatley said.

Of the 18 major sources, four burn coal: Alliant Techsystems at Rocket Center,  Bayer CropScience in Institute, DuPont Washington Works near Parkersburg and PPG Industries at Natrium.

Another several major sources and some minor sources burn wood.

Calls to a number of those facilities did not locate a manager who was clear yet about the implications of the rules and willing to speak about them.

However, Wilson offered the example of one of his clients, a company that also did not wish to be interviewed but which expects to be affected significantly.

"They have a coal-fired boiler which they do not believe can pass the revised boiler MACT standard," Wilson said.

Any coal-fired boiler would need, at minimum, a control device for particulate matter, Wilson wrote in an analysis published by Acacia parent company Jackson Kelly. It would need to control or to test and demonstrate compliance for other emissions including mercury, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide — and even if only testing is needed, it can be expensive.

"Natural gas is not piped to their plant," Wilson continued on the example of his client. "So they either have to switch to fuel oil — which is much more expensive than natural gas and still is impacted at a mid-level by the boiler MACT — or the other option is to put in a massive propane tank, which also is much more expensive than natural gas.

"It is going to be a major financial impact at a relatively small plant," he added.

Boilers burning other fuels fall behind those burning coal and wood in the hierarchy of facilities affected by the new rules.

"If you burn heavy oil — meaning a dirtier grade, not distillate oil — that would be more burdensome as far as the impact and you may have to switch fuels," he said. "For those burning No. 1 or No. 2 distillate, diesel or kerosene, there's going to be a moderate impact that may cause some companies to switch fuels, but most I think would not switch."

A beneficiary of all this, he said, is going to be the natural gas industry.

"For people who switch fuels, if they have natural gas piped to their facility, that is overwhelmingly what they're going to switch to," he said.