WASHINGTON — Citing the worries of a Maine business, Sen. Susan Collins
Wednesday introduced, along with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a
bill that would delay new federal regulations limiting emissions from
industrial boilers.

The bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency 15 months to
re-examine the issue and come up with final rules. It would also extend
compliance deadlines for businesses that use boilers from three years to
five.

The legislation – other co-sponsors are GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of
Tennessee and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana – has been expected. It is
similar to a bill already pending in the House.

The bill would, “direct EPA to ensure that the new rules are achievable
by real-world” boilers and “impose the least burdensome regulator
alternatives,” according to a joint release by Collins and the other
lawmakers.

The EPA has said the original rule it came out with last year would have
cost $10 billion for industries nationwide – from paper mills to
chemical plants – to retrofit boilers with air cleaning equipment. The
agency then revised the regulations earlier this year and said it had
cut that cost to $5 billion. But industry advocates say the cost was
actually $20 billion originally and remains $14 billion.

The EPA seemed to acknowledge industry concerns in December, when it
asked a federal court to allow it to work on the rules until April 2012.
But that request was denied, and the EPA was ordered to complete the
final regulations by late February. In February, the EPA came out with
the revised rules, but then said it would continue to seek public
comments and wouldn’t issue final rules until April 2012.

But that didn’t satisfy industry or congressional critics. The 15-month
period in Collins’ bill would not begin until the date the legislation
is enacted.

Collins on Wednesday used a hearing on general regulatory reform to talk
about the boiler emissions bill, saying that the CEO of an architectural
woodwork manufacturer in Windham who employs 65 people told her his
company spent $300,000 on a wood-waste boiler that allowed the company
to stop using fossil fuels for heat and to eliminate its landfill waste
stream. But under the rules the EPA originally proposed, Windham
Millwork would have had to scrap the new boiler and buy another new one,
“for miniscule public benefit,” Collins said. “What possible sense does
that make?”

Collins acknowledged that the EPA already has “backed off” on the
portion of proposed rules that affect the use of small boilers such as
Windham Millwork’s. But CEO Bruce Pulkkinen remains concerned “it’s only
a matter of time before the EPA takes aim again on small boilers,”
Collins said.

Environmentalists say efforts to block or delay boiler emissions
regulations overstate the costs to industry and allow harmful toxins
such as mercury and lead emissions to enter the air.

Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs, and other lawmakers, including GOP Sen.
Olympia Snowe of Maine, also have introduced or are working on
legislation this year to overhaul the process for preparing new federal
regulations. The National Federation for Independent Business lauded the
efforts by Snowe and Collins Wednesday, saying small businesses bear
more regulatory costs than large businesses, proportionately, and that
the reform bills proposed by Snowe, Collins and others would “help level
the playing field for small business.”

But the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which includes labor,
environmental and consumer advocacy groups such as Public Citizen, said
Wednesday that the proposals to revamp the regulatory process would
undermine important public health and safety protections.

The Obama administration has launched its own push to streamline
duplicative or burdensome federal regulations, but has expressed concern
that some of the pending legislation would spur more court battles and
inject more uncertainty into the regulatory process.

Collins said at the hearing that she believes that various regulatory
reform proposals can be combined into one bipartisan, comprehensive bill
that “improves the regulatory process to make it less burdensome, more
friendly to job creators, and no less protective to the public interest.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the committee’s chairman, said the
“question is not whether to regulate but how to weigh the costs and
benefits of regulations so that we have the most efficient and effective
rule making.”

Regulations have brought improvements to health, safety and
environmental quality, Lieberman said. He added that “regulatory
excesses that undercut economic health” must be avoided, but “we also
must avoid roadblocks that get in the way of an agency’s ability to
modernize rules to better protect both the public and the economy.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be
contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com