Friday, June 24, 2011

Long Overdue: EPA and Nitric Acid Plant Regulation - Harmful emissions continue to spew despite availability of cheap technology
Nitric acid plants emit dangerous air pollutants that cause illness and alter the climate. A new study, released today, finds EPA long overdue on a regulatory revision and at risk of allowing major costs to be imposed on the American public. 

Nitric acid factories—which mainly produce the ingredients for fertilizer—have escaped pollution control requirements based on contemporary science and technology. Despite a statutory requirement to review and revise related regulations every eight years, the rules governing these plants have not been updated in four decades.

During that time, the technology for cleaning up emissions has drastically changed, rendering the old rules outdated and insufficient. Life-saving technologies are now easier and cheaper but have not been put in place by most plants.

In the forty years since nitric acid plant regulations have been revised, new research has also shown greater harm from the pollutant than originally thought, which means greater benefits to cutting emissions. Savings like higher productivity, fewer sick days, and less risk for untimely death add up to significant benefits that are not currently being taken into account.
“EPA has had long enough to catch up with the technology. It must now give these facilities an incentive to reduce their pollution,” said Michael Livermore, Policy Integrity’s executive director.
Since 1971, the last time these rules were updated, scientific consensus on the danger of an additional pollutant has emerged: nitric acid plants also emit a powerful greenhouse gas. In 2009, nitric acid production accounted for the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 2.6 million cars. These nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions have never been regulated.
EPA has already found that the costs of reducing greenhouse gases from nitric acid plants may be as low as $2.32 per ton, while the benefits could be as high as $64.90 per ton.
“The risks of climate change are now well documented: EPA can no longer afford to ignore the greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sectors like nitric acid plants. That’s particularly true given the fact that cutting these pollutants will have major public health benefits and cost relatively little,” said Jason Schwartz, legal director for Policy Integrity.
Under President Barack Obama, EPA has promised to address issue, but since that announcement, there has been almost a year of inaction.
The NOX Budget Trading Program (or “NOX SIP Call”) could assist EPA in setting an emissions standard for nitric acid plants that is cost-benefit justified. Despite the fact that this program was superseded by the Clean Air Interstate Rule’s (“CAIR”) NOX ozone season program (which is likely to be replaced by the new Transport Rule), data from the NOX Budget Trading Program reports in 2008 could provide insight into the quantified benefits of NOX emissions reductions. As of the close of 2008, the cost of a NOX permit was $592 per ton. 
Utilizing technology “demonstrated in practice,” nitric acid plants can reduce over 80% of their nitrous oxide emissions at a cost of $2.32 - $6.49 for every ton of carbon-dioxide equivalent reduced according to Environmental Protection Agency, Available and Emerging Technologies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions From the Nitric Acid Production Industry a 2010 Environmental Protection Agency document available at ... This estimate could be further reduced if EPA adopts the flexibility mechanisms outlined in the report
The full report is available free of charge here.

The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, "a non-partisan think-tank using economics and law to protect the environment, public health, and consumers".
Press Release dated June 23, 2011

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