The past few years have been “curiouser and curiouser” as Alice might say, and it is no small wonder. The US cement industry is still struggling with two of the most important industry issues of this generation. The first issue is an economic slump that seems stuck on slow to no growth. The second issue is NESHAP. By now, anyone that’s even remotely involved in the cement industry has heard that acronym countless times. The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) actually started long ago when bell bottoms, tie-dye, and big hair were all the rage. NESHAP was the EPA’s response to the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments.
The first cement industry NESHAP was proposed in 1998. That was followed by: a final rule, a proposed settlement, amendments, a partial withdrawal, a final rule with clarifications and corrections, more amendments, public comments, a notice of reconsideration and a notice of proposed settlement. And those are just the highlights! That process ultimately led to a new rule proposed in May 2009. The PCA and dozens of other interested groups responded to the proposed rule with a wealth of comments, analysis and suggestions. There were also a series of public meetings held throughout the country. The EPA then published the final NESHAP rule in Federal Register in September 2010 with the compliance date of September 2013. Except it wasn’t quite final…
The industry petitioned the EPA to reconsider the rule; basically to take a second look at it and consider facts and issues that the EPA may have overlooked or misunderstood. Sometimes reconsideration is appropriate because there is new information that’s just too important to ignore. In May 2011, the EPA reviewed the cement industry’s petition to reconsider the NESHAP rule. Part of that reconsideration was denied while part was granted. The issues that were under reconsideration included: emission standards for open clinker piles, continuously monitored parameters for the alternative THC (total hydrocarbon) standard, HCl (hydrochloric acid) limits during start up (for sources that do not have continuous emission monitoring), compliance options for dry scrubber equipped kilns, alternative PM (particulate matter) limits for commingled exhaust gas flows, start-up and shutdown monitoring of mercury and PM, the status of coal mills under NESHAP and NSPS, and functional equivalence between NESHAP and NSPS (New Source Performance Standards) PM limits for modified kilns.
The issues that were granted reconsideration provide a unique glimpse into the complexities of administrative rule making. For example, the reconsideration given to standards for clinker storage piles was granted on the basis of whether or not the EPA provided sufficient notice while the reconsideration given to alternative PM limits for commingled exhaust gas flow was granted to avoid penalising an environmentally beneficial practice that results in significant energy savings.
But what happens when disagreements about rule making aren’t reconsidered and can’t be resolved? Like most other disagreements in life they end up as arguments. In the case of NESHAP, the arguments were heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: the court responsible for reviewing EPA rule making. The Court heard the argument on 11 October 2011 and handed down its decision on 9 December 2011. What the Court said was that the EPA must grant reconsideration of the final NESHAP rule. In effect, they forced the EPA to open up NESHAP for reconsideration. That means they thought that there is enough information to support reversal of the rule. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the rule will be reversed; only that it isn’t quite as cut and dry as the EPA may have thought. The Court also stayed the NESHAP standards for clinker storage piles: effectively stopping the clock until the EPA reconsiders that portion of the rule. For cement producers, that’s a welcome move. They won’t have to construct expensive new storage facilities until there is a final rule.
After all of this, just where do things stand and where are we headed? For starters, the compliance clock is still ticking. Although the EPA’s reconsideration may change the final rule, a possibility exists that stricter emissions limits could be introduced. For those plants that can address NESHAP and still economically produce cement, there’s a large chance they’ll be investing heavily in any combination of control technologies. There are also a number of process techniques like dust shuttling, materials control, raw material selection and management and process modifications under consideration. In many cases plants will be installing new equipment and changing their production techniques.
Each plant uses a different decision making process to identify which techniques and technologies are best suited to their specific conditions. There will be a unique opportunity to gain insight into that process at the 54th annual IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Industry Technical Conference in San Antonio, TX. The PCA will once again be hosting an Environmental Workshop. Part of that workshop will include task group reports from the Joint Environmental Technology Subcommittee (ETS): a joint group of cement producers, vendors and consultants drawn from both PCA’s Manufacturing Technical Committee and its Environment and Energy Committee.
That still doesn’t quite answer the question where do we stand today? The PCA and the EPA routinely communicate about a wide variety of issues regardless of agency rule making. Those communications continue today. In some cases technical subject matter experts from PCA member companies, vendors and consultants are discussing technical issues with their Agency counterparts. In other cases, senior level policy makers on both sides meet for discussions. These discussions often take on a life of their own. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. There are hundreds of complex technical issues to be addressed. And the process is just like peeling an onion; layer after layer. After more than 40 years of rules and regulations… there are a lot of layers! Currently the EPA is reviewing its options to finalise NESHAP in light of the Court Remand decision to reconsider the standards. The amended NESHAP rule will be issued for public comments in the near future. Stay tuned…
Written by Satish Sheth, Co-Chair – PCA Clean Air Committee and Vice President – Environmental Affairs, Cemex USA.
This article is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the May 2012 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can view the full article by logging in.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/the-americas/24042012/neshap_usa_cement_sector_environment/