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Universities, Hospitals, and Related Institutions Subject to Revised Final EPA “Area Source” Boiler Air Rules

On December 20, 2012, EPA finalized its “area source” boiler regulations designed to limit air emissions from small- to medium-sized boilers that burn coal, oil, or biomass which serve as the source of heat and sometimes power at a variety of commercial businesses, such as hotels and office buildings, as well as institutional entities, including universities, schools, education centers, medical centers, hospitals, municipal buildings, and prisons. According to EPA, 183,000 boilers at 92,000 area source facilities nationwide will be impacted by the final rule, 85 percent of which EPA considers to be small businesses or entities.

Historically, EPA regulated hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) only from “major sources,” that is, sources that emit or have the potential to emit 10 tons per year (tpy) of any individual HAP or 25 tpy of any combination of HAPs. Area sources, on the other hand, are sources of HAPs that emit less than these 10 tpy/25 tpy threshold levels. EPA has always possessed the dormant authority to regulate such area sources under the Clean Air Act.

Under the re-issued final rules, originally published in March 2011, existing “large” boilers (i.e., those with a heat input capacity equal to or greater than 10 million Btu per hour) that burn coal will generally be required to meet emission limits for mercury and carbon monoxide. New large boilers will have even more stringent operating standards, including limits on emissions of particulate matter (PM). Existing sources must submit their initial notification by January 20, 2014, and face a March 21, 2014, compliance deadline.

The Area Source rule exempts smaller boilers from emission limits, as well as oil-fired and biomass boilers. But such boilers will be subject to a work practice standard including a boiler tune-up every two years or five years. Natural gas-fired area source boilers are predominantly exempt from the final rule.

Related Boiler Rules – The new Area Source boiler rule is separate from, but related to, two other EPA actions regulating emissions from boilers. As part of EPA’s December 20, 2012, action, EPA also finalized stringent standards for major source industrial boilers (referred to as the Boiler MACT), as well as a new revised final rule to reduce air toxics from Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incinerators (CISWIs).

Nonhazardous Secondary Materials as Fuel – In conjunction with the Boiler and Incinerator rulemakings, EPA also issued a revised final rule under RCRA aimed at identifying which types of non-hazardous secondary materials are, or are not, RCRA “solid wastes” when burned in combustion units. EPA clarifies that the following four types of nonhazardous secondary materials are not RCRA solid wastes when utilized and burned as fuels:

  • scrap tires that are not discarded and are managed under the oversight of an “established tire collection program” (including off-spec tires and tires removed from vehicles);
  • resinated wood;
  • coal refuse from legacy piles; and
  • dewatered pulp and paper sludges that are not discarded and managed as fuels and not wastes.