WASHINGTON Dec 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized rules to curb pollution from industrial boilers and large incinerators, revising earlier versions to target only the largest polluters and give them more time to comply.
The agency on Friday formalized standards it initially released in March 2011 for reducing toxic air pollution, including mercury and particle pollution, known as soot, from boilers and solid waste incinerators.
Boilers, which are typically fired by coal, oil, natural gas and biomass, are used to power heavy machinery and provide heat for industrial processes.
The new rules target roughly 2,300 boilers, or less than one percent of the 1.5 million units now operating in the United States, requiring them to meet numerical limits on their release of air toxins.
These large source boilers, found mainly at refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities, will have three years to comply and can be granted a fourth year if needed to install controls, according to the EPA.
The rule also targets 106 industrial solid waste incinerators, which have five years to comply with the EPA standards.
"The adjusted standards require only the largest and highest-emitting units to add pollution controls or take steps to reduce air pollution, making the standards affordable, protective and practical," according to an EPA factsheet.
The rules have taken a long road toward Friday's finalization. The EPA first introduced the rule in 2005, but it was vacated by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2007.
The rule was re-proposed in June 2010 but industry groups slammed that version, calling its set limits unachievable, prompting the EPA to relax and reintroduce the rule.
"After years of delays, the finalized Boiler MACT standard ends uncertainty and allows businesses to move forward with one standard that applies across the nation, leveling the playing field," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
"MACT" is an acronym for Maximum Achievable Control Technology.
Despite relaxing the rules, the EPA said the standards will prevent up to 8,100 premature deaths, 5,100 heart attacks, and 52,000 asthma attacks. The agency estimated that Americans will receive $13 to $29 in health benefits for every dollar spent to meet the final standards and create a small net increase in jobs.
Some industry groups were still wary.
"Several billions of dollars in capital spending will be necessary to comply. This is a significant investment for an industry still recovering from the economic downturn, especially in light of the growing cumulative regulatory burden we face," the American Forest & Paper Association, the national lobby group of the forest products industry, said on Friday.
The National Association of Manufacturers, an opponent of EPA regulations, said in November that compliance costs for the agency's six air pollution rules, including the boiler rule, could total $111.2 billion by EPA estimates and up to $138.2 billion by industry estimates. (Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Nick Zieminski)