By Tim Hunt
Senior Director, Air Quality Programs
Has the Jan. 31, 2016 compliance deadline for the 2013 Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) snuck up on the forest products industry? Not a chance! The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), which represents the paper and wood product mills that operate hundreds of industrial boilers, has been out front on every aspect of this rulemaking whether working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), educating Congress, building coalitions, or even being involved in the inevitable litigation.
In 2010, the EPA proposed unachievable emission limits that would cost the forest products industry at least $9 billion and jeopardize the use of biomass as our main fuel. A paper sector jobs study that AF&PA sponsored estimated tens of thousands of high-paying jobs would be lost in rural communities and numerous mills would close as the country was still struggling with the effects of the Great Recession. We made sure this news got everyone’s attention, both at EPA and in Congress.
Congress responded by introducing bi-partisan legislation to direct EPA to set workable and economical boiler standards. Bills passed the House and got 54 votes in the Senate, signaling substantial concerns even though it did not become law. Meanwhile, AF&PA provided EPA new emissions data from biomass boilers and engineering assessments to support more realistic emission standards. Our fact-based advocacy began to pay off as EPA reconsidered its approach in 2011 and ultimately adopted better limits in early 2013, although they will still cost about $1 billion. At the same time, EPA listed more biomass-based materials as eligible to be burned in boilers based on AF&PA generated data and recommendations.
Our work didn’t end there. Over the last three years, AF&PA hosted compliance workshops for members and continued to press EPA to improve the Boiler MACT implementation provisions and authorize three more biomass fuels just this month. Unfortunately, even with all of our progress, business uncertainties remain for many compliance investments. Litigation is ongoing, and a judicial decision is not expected until after the 3-year compliance deadline…far from ideal. We hope the courts uphold the limits that paper and wood product mills are committed to meet.
In the meantime, we have learned a valuable lesson that when facing the prospects of an unsustainable regulatory outcome, an “all-hands-on-deck” advocacy effort can help bring diverse stakeholders together to improve the competitiveness of the forest products industry.