Several of the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency’s most expensive and far-reaching Clean Air Act regulations are back in the news now that the Trump administration is trying to scale them back. While there is little doubt that potential changes to the Clean Power Plan, Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology, and Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules could save billions of dollars and countless jobs, they are far from the only Obama EPA rules in need of review.
At the other end of the size spectrum, problematic Clean Air Act rules impacting manufacturers of bricks and wood heaters are far less consequential overall but are still important enough to fix. Both industries are dominated by companies that are downright tiny compared to a utility or automaker, but brick and wood heater makers are often the largest private sector employers in the small towns and rural communities where many are located. And both provide essential products—bricks are the literal building blocks of the economic recovery and wood heaters are the most affordable heat source for many low-income rural households.
The Brick MACT rule would set stringent new facility emissions standards—ostensibly to reduce mercury and other metals, but these emissions are already so miniscule that the bulk of claimed benefits come from questionable co-benefits from fine particulate matter reductions. These standards are scheduled to take effect in December of 2018—only months away.
The New Source Performance Standards for wood heaters have two phases. The first phase took effect in 2015 with minimal difficulties, but a dramatically more stringent second phase is scheduled to take effect in 2020. Very few current wood heater models meet the 2020 standards, and those that do come with hefty price tags.
Both industries are victims of Obama EPA excess. To put things in perspective, neither brickmaking facilities nor wood heaters were particularly serious polluters in the first place, and both had already seen emissions reductions by more than 90 percent as a result of previous standards. It’s regulation for the sake of regulation, and all pain for little or no gain.
To its credit, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation providing limited regulatory relief in the form of additional time to comply with the both requirements. On the Senate side, the Environment and Public Works committee has passed similar bills, which may go to the Senate floor. Given President Trump’s support for domestic manufacturers, there is little doubt he would sign these bills if they make it to his desk, but there are doubts the Senate will pass them.
At the same time, the Trump EPA is trying to provide administrative flexibility with the deadlines, including a one-year delay of the brick deadline. However, the agency’s latitude is limited absent action by Congress, especially for wood heaters.
Time is running short. Both rules could impose costs that can reach a million dollars per company—the kind of money many of these small manufacturers simply don’t have. Given the lead times manufacturers need, owners must decide soon whether to make the investment or plan on closing down.