"The stakes are much higher with standards for utilities because they could have a dramatic impact on coal-burning power plants," he said. "If EPA follows the law, that rule is going to have sweeping and massive repercussions. The side benefit is that a number of older coal plants are likely to be shut down."
Standards for emissions of mercury and other pollutants from utilities will be very tough because the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to gather real-world evidence and match the highest standards. States such as New Jersey, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Connecticut have already set goals for reining in such emissions, according to data gathered by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
"Putting boiler standards out front first will fuel congressional opposition to regulations," O'Donnell said, adding that coal states will lead the way. "That opposition will be built to such a frenzy that Congress will go after power plant standards."
Why EPA Did What It Did
The Jan. 16 deadline for industrial boilers to upgrade to "maximum achievable control technology" was set after the EPA lost a court challenge that dated back to the President George W. Bush administration.
However, the agency countered that order by filing a motion with the court requesting more time to set the industrial boiler standards after it received 4,800-plus comments and additional data during the most recent public comment period, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said via e-mail.
"The agency believes these changes still deserve further public review and comment and expects to solicit further comment through a reconsideration of the rules," she said. "Through the reconsideration process, EPA intends to ensure that the rules will be practical to implement."
EPA first laid out pollution standards for industrial boilers, process heaters, and some solid waste incinerators in April 2010. Officials estimated the rules would slice mercury, lead, cadmium, dioxin, furans, formaldehyde and other toxic emissions from close to 200,000 heating units nationwide.
Boilers produce steam for electricity and heat by burning natural gas, coal, wood, oil or other fuels. Refineries, chemical and manufacturing factories and paper mills use boilers and process heaters, as do shopping malls and universities. Incinerators are used to dispose of waste by burning it.
"EPA is disappointed that the extension was not longer," Jones said about the judge's decision. "However, the agency will work diligently to issue these standards by this new deadline."