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ENRLC Weighs In On Nitric Acid Rulemaking

November 30, 2011

Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) recently submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on the agency's proposed revision of its outdated air pollution standards for nitric acid plants. The ENRLC submitted the comments on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council.Image of air pollution

The EPA has proposed strengthening the standard for nitrogen oxides (NOx) from new, modified, and reconstructed nitric acid plants to limit ozone, particulate matter, visibility, acid rain and other end results of NOx pollution. But the agency has failed to propose any standard for nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. N2O is a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide, and the nitric acid industry is the largest industrial source of such emissions. Most nitric acid is used to produce fertilizer.

The ENRLC's comments express support for the stronger NOx standard but emphasize that the EPA's failure to include a nitrous oxide standard is unlawful. The agency's final rule is due by March 30, 2012.

There are an estimated 40 nitric acid plants in the United States. The proposed rule would only apply to those facilities if they modified their production facilities. The EPA estimates that six new facilities will come on line over the next five years and be subject to these requirements. The agency estimates the total annual costs to comply with this proposed rule would be negligible for the industry and consumers. These technologies have the ability to eliminate well over 90 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.

The ENRLC's Chris Ahlers and Ken Rumelt, both LLM Fellows, and Monica Litzelman, a litigation paralegal, prepared the clinic's comments and assembled scientific studies and other supporting materials for inclusion in the administrative record.

Read the comments.

Read the EPA's fact sheet.

The EPA is also developing greenhouse gas standards for power plants, petroleum refineries, and other industrial categories, but it has not issued standards for any of these industrial categories.

Image of Teresa Clemmer

Professor Teresa Clemmer

"Over the past two years, EPA has taken remarkable steps to begin regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act," said Associate Professor Teresa Clemmer, acting director of the ENRLC. "Its initial rules have focused on mobile sources and facility-by-facility permitting under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting program. Many environmental groups believe one of the most important next steps is sector-by-sector regulation of stationary sources under the New Source Performance Standards program. Through petitions and litigation, environmental groups are pressuring EPA to begin regulating power plants, petroleum refineries, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and other industrial sectors. As part of this effort, the ENRLC has been representing the Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project in a deadline suit against EPA relating to its overdue review of the NSPS for nitric acid plants."

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