The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted final rules tightening emissions limits for coal preparation and processing plants and imposing new reporting requirements on those facilities.

The final rule, which went into effect October 8, revises emissions limits for particulate matter and opacity standards for coal-handling equipment and establishes a sulfur dioxide emission limit and a combined nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions limit for thermal dryers located at stand-alone and utility-based coal processing plants.

The new rules, which revise New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for coal preparation and processing plants, were first proposed by EPA under the Bush administration in April 2008.

However, the final rule adopted by the agency is more restrictive and reflective of the green-leaning policy initiatives of the Obama administration.

The final rule comes as the Obama administration has begun to more closely scrutinize other parts of the coal industry. In particular, it is reviewing mountaintop removal coal mining operations in Appalachia and is currently considering bringing coal ash impoundments under federal oversight following last year’s colossal coal ash spill in Roane County, Tenn., which despoiled 300 acres of land and water.

The new emissions limits and work practice standards for coal processing and preparation plants apply to those facilities that are built, modified or reconstructed after April 28, 2008. The rules cover facilities at underground and mountaintop removal coal mining operations, fossil-fuel power plants, cement factories and paper mills, and all other coal product manufacturing plants.

The final rule expands the applicability of the NSPS to more coal-handling equipment than was previously subject to federal regulation. Notably, it establishes work practice standards to control loose coal dust emissions from open storage piles at coal processing plants, and it expands the definition of coal to include coal refuse—a change that is expected to expand the number of regulated facilities subject to the rule.

Looking ahead, EPA says it estimates 22 coal preparation and processing plants will be required to comply with the new rule in the next five years, and that application of new emissions controls at those facilities will reduce particulate emissions nationwide by some 7,600 tons per year.

EPA said it estimates that total compliance costs for the 22 plants subject to regulation would be about $7.9 million in each of the first five years of compliance.

The new rules failed to elicit the usual praise from environmentalists or howls of outrage from mining groups.

However, a spokesperson with the National Mining Association (NMA) told The Energy Daily that the industry had some concerns with the final rule’s new 10% opacity limit for most coal-handling equipment. The Bush and Obama administrations both initially proposed the limit be set at 5%, down from the existing 20%.

“We are concerned that the 10 percent opacity may not be attainable by well-controlled facilities currently in operation,” said NMA spokesperson Carol Raulston.

George Lobsenz is the editor of COAL POWER’s sister publication, The Energy Daily.