EPA finalizes controversial SMM rule

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule directing 36 states to stop providing exemptions for emission violations during the startup, shutdown or malfunction (SSM) of a power plant.
 
The rule rolls back decades-old policy that provided utilities an “affirmative defense” against enforcement actions and exemption from emission standards during SSM events. The new rule will remove these exemptions. The 36 states directed to change their policies to prohibit exemptions for SSM events have until Nov. 22, 2016 to comply.
 
EPA’s action is a response to a 2011 petition for rulemaking filed by the Sierra Club. Environmental groups were quick to claim victory in a long battle over what they describe as regulatory loopholes.
 
“For too long, neighborhoods adjacent to dirty oil refineries, coal plants, and other sources of pollution have been left with little recourse to protect their families from toxic pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and soot,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a prepared statement.
 
Power producers contend the exemptions are needed because emission control equipment in a power plant must reach certain temperatures to effectively control emissions. They maintain power plants are unable to meet emission standards outside normal operating conditions and that the new rule ignores the science and chemistry involved in the operation of a power plant.
 
In September 2014, the EPA issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPR) which effectively asserted that all affirmative defense provisions in state implementation plans (SIPs) which applied to SSM events were now held to be inconsistent with the CAA.
 
The 36 states directed to change their policies to prohibit exemptions for SSM events are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

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