National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.


EPA proposes rules on coal ash, boilers

By Julie Ufner

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposed rule on emissions standards for existing and new industrial, commercial or institutional boilers. There is a 45-day comment period on this rule. The EPA is under court order to implement the regulation by December 2010.

The boiler rule will likely have a significant impact on local governments that use boilers or process heaters to produce electricity or heat. It will affect boilers used in county buildings such as courthouses, jails, schools, hospitals, clinics or other institutions that use natural gas, fuel oil, coal, biomass such as wood, refinery fuel or other gas to produce steam.  

In the proposed rule, the EPA establishes emission standards for mercury, particulate matter (PM) and carbon monoxide (CO) for both new and existing boilers. The proposed rule breaks the standard down further based on size of the boiler (large or small), design (what type of fuel it burns) and whether it is a new or existing boiler. 

For example, a new coal-fired unit would be required to meet emission limits for mercury, PM and CO, while new biomass and oil-fired units would need to meet limits for PM and CO. 

For existing units, boiler size — large or small — comes into play. A large boiler is defined as a boiler that has a heat input capacity equal to or greater than 10 million British thermal units per hour. A small boiler has a heat input capacity of less than 10 million Btu per hour.

Existing large boilers would be required to conduct yearly energy audits. Additionally, depending on the type of fuel burned, there would be associated emission limits.

Existing small boilers, on the other hand, would not be required to meet emission limits. Instead, the small boilers would be subject to a boiler tune-up work standard every two years. 

The EPA estimates that this rule will significantly improve both air quality and decrease health costs associated with air pollution. 

For more information about this proposed rule, go to:

Proposed Solid Waste Incinerator Rule

Concurrent with the boiler rule, the EPA is also proposing new emission standards for incinerators, including a definitional change for types of non-hazardous materials used in these incinerators.  This will allow a distinction between types of materials allowed to be used in a boiler compared to a solid waste incinerator.  There will also be a 45-day comment period for this rule.

According to the EPA, the proposal discusses the classification for a variety of materials, including: scrap tires (both whole and shredded), used oil (both on-spec and off-spec), coal refuse, pulp and paper sludge, resinated wood residuals, sewage sludge, cement kiln dust (CKD), coal combustion residuals (CCR) and foundry sand.

This rule could have implications for counties that use incinerators for disposal of the above materials.

For more information, download the document at

Proposed Coal Ash Rules

EPA proposed the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants May 4. Coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals, is the byproduct of combustion at power plants.  It contains various elements such as mercury and arsenic that cause contamination and serious health problems.

The question, as posed by this proposal, is how should the EPA regulate coal ash?  The proposals range from protective controls over impoundment areas to creating federally enforceable requirements.  

At this point, the EPA plans to leave the Bevill exemption in place.  The Bevill exemption refers to beneficial uses of coal combustion byproducts such as recycling the byproducts for other uses, rather than disposing the byproducts into a landfill.  However, the EPA is clarifying this determination and seeking comment on potential refinements for certain beneficial uses.

This is important for local governments that use coal ash as a major component in road bed construction projects. Byproducts are also heavily used in cement, concrete, brick, roofing materials, agriculture applications, paints, plastics, and snow and ice control.

The public comment period is 90 days from the date the rule is published in the Federal Register. More information about the proposed regulation: