The tricky thing about trying to reduce pollution is that Americans make so much of it, in all sorts of different ways, and at greatly varying scales. We get why it makes sense to curb pollution from coal-burning power plants; they pollute on a huge scale.
Here's a trickier one: industrial boilers, the large steam-producing systems used by institutions for heat and power. There are a lot of them, and all together they produce a lot of pollution too. But it's much trickier politically, since tightening pollution levels from boilers (and industrial incinerators) means imposing costs on hospitals and manufacturers and schools. For a decade, the EPA has been trying to figure out where to draw the line on the issue, how to decide between the huge benefits of reducing pollution and the huge backlash that would come from providing those benefits.
After reviewing feedback on its initial regulatory proposal, the agency late yesterday released the final standard -- apparently deciding to prevent backlash as much as pollution. From The Washington Post:
For the first time, large boilers and cement kilns will face strict limits on mercury, acid gases and fine particulate matter, or soot. But the EPA will give boiler owners three years to meet the new standards, with a possible extension for another year after that, meaning the earliest they will take effect would be in 2016. Cement plants will not have to comply with the new limits until September 2015, two years after they were originally set to take place.
The rules for cement plants are looser and have later deadlines than the EPA had originally proposed. While the rules affect far more boilers than cement plants, the damage cement plants do is far worse, per unit.