The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulatory Relief Act of 2011 (H.R. 2250) by a vote of 275-42 .The bill, which seeks to limit the federal agency’s rules limiting toxic air pollutants from commercial and industrial boilers and thwart the EPA from proposing a new standard for at least 15 months after enactment, now heads to the Senate, where it is unlikely to pass, industry analysts say.

H.R. 2250 would also give regulated entities five years—rather than three years allowed under the Clean Air Act—to comply with the Boiler MACT rule. The overall effect of H.R. 2250 is that implementation of the rule would be delayed until 2018, lawyers from energy law firm VanNess Feldman said. “The bill also requires that any new standards must be set at a level that is more easily ‘achievable’ for the industry during normal operations.”

The EPA finalized the so-called Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rules in February this year in an effort to reduce emissions of air pollutants—including mercury, other metals, and organic air toxics— at new and existing industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters at facilities that emits 10 or more tons per year (tpy) of any air toxic or 25 tpy of a combination of air toxics.

The EPA issued the proposed rules in April 2010 in response to a September 2009 court order—following a period when a federal court vacated industry-specific standards proposed during the Bush administration. Based on the prolific public input received following the April 2010 proposal, the EPA said it made “extensive revisions” to the rules. In December 2010, a federal court denied the agency’s request for additional time to review public comments, however, forcing the agency to issue final rules in February.

The final rules were published in the Federal Register on March 21. In June, the agency said that “to ensure that the agency’s standards are based on the best available data and the public is given ample opportunity to provide additional input and information,” it would propose updated standards by the end of October 2011 and finalize those rules by April 2012.

The bill’s sponsor, Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), said H.R. 2250 had received “hundreds of support letters from businesses, unions, and trade associations as well as support from 126 cosponsors in the House, including 25 Democrats.”

“Unreasonable regulations—like the currently written Boiler MACT rules—are threatening jobs across the nation and creating uncertainty for businesses,” he said. “The Council of Industrial Boiler Owners estimates that the capital costs alone of the Boiler MACT rules would exceed $14 billion and could put 230,000 jobs at risk, including 10,000 jobs in Virginia.”

Industry groups like the Biomass Power Association (BPA) applauded the House’s passage of the bill and urged the Senate to pass its companion bill, S. 1392. “The ‘Boiler MACT’ regulations—which aim to tighten emissions standards for industrial and commercial boilers to a maximum achievable level—have been the subject of controversy over the past year,” said BPA President and CEO Bob Cleaves. “Despite the EPA’s own assertion that the rules were not yet fully researched, legal action from environmental advocacy groups forced the Agency to move forward with implementation. The legislation approved [on Thursday] if adopted by the Senate, will reverse this ruling, allowing the EPA limited additional time for study.”

But some groups lamented passage of the bill as yet another measure that could result in uncertainty. American Boiler Manufacturers Association President and CEO Randy Rawson lambasted lawmakers for engaging in “pugnacious political theater of the type to which we have become all too accustomed in recent months.”

"Approving this bill, the House has cast its lot with discredited, flawed, self-serving studies and exaggerated impact analyses to advance an anti-regulatory political agenda in an election year rather than meaningfully contributing to any credible or constructive effort to provide clarity or afford certainty,” he said. “Opting for continued, arbitrarily-chosen delay and imprecise legislative definitions and directions, the House has [signaled] its preference for on-going, long-term market-place uncertainty and turmoil rather than trying to resolve exigent issues.”

Sources: POWERnews, U.S. House of Representatives, BPA, ABMA