WASHINGTON—A massive new set of regulatory proposals from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rubber recyclers worried that tire-derived fuel could be redefined as a solid waste, which could harm the rubber recycling industry.
In the three proposed rules, the EPA seeks to reduce emissions from industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and solid waste incinerators. The proposals are some 860 pages long in aggregate, and appeared on the agency's website April 29.
The proposals as written would cut U.S. mercury emissions by more than half and also significantly reduce other pollutants from boilers and incinerators, the EPA said in a press release.
For $3.6 billion annually in pollution control installation and operation costs, the agency said, the U.S. would see $18 billion to $44 billion in annual health benefits, including the prevention of 36,000 asthma attacks and between 2,000 and 5,200 premature deaths each year.
Among other things, the solid waste incinerator proposal would redefine some nonhazardous materials as waste, which would require any unit burning them to be classified as solid waste incinerators. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to regulate solid waste incinerators more stringently than industrial boilers, making incinerators more expensive to operate than boilers.
This portion of the rule dates back to a June 2007 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
According to that ruling, the EPA violated the plain intent of the Clean Air Act when it allowed industrial facilities that use alternative fuels such as TDF to be regulated as industrial boilers rath- er than as hazardous waste incinerators.
The proposed rule on solid waste incinerators would classify whole tires flat out as waste, which would severely affect the use of whole tires as supplemental fuel in cement kilns, said Tracey Norberg, senior vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, and Sarah Amick, RMA environmental counsel.
“The proposal states that tires if processed would be classified as fuel, but we're still trying to figure out what the EPA means by 'processed,'” according to Norberg.
The agency may require that all metal be removed from TDF, but all TDF is manufactured according to standards set by ASTM International, which allow a certain amount of metal to remain, she said.
The big question, according to Norberg and Amick, is whether firms that currently use TDF would continue to do so if it's defined as waste.
“In our opinion, they would vastly prefer not to be considered waste incinerators,” Norberg said.
Because TDF is still the most profitable market for recycled rubber, the loss of that market could mean the demise of many processors who also make higher-value-added recycled rubber products, she said.
Environmentalists, however, express-ed approval of the proposed changes in EPA rules.
A typical reaction came from Elena Craft, toxicologist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
“EPA's proposal is a critical step toward addressing toxic air pollutants released in neighborhoods and communities across the nation,” Craft said.
“Deploying available clean air solutions to reduce the most toxic air pollution means healthier children and healthier communities.”