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Brick makers confront EPA emissions rule

The Environmental Protection Agency’s national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) rule covering portland cement is driving significant capital investment toward a September 2016 compliance target for U.S. mills. A tandem measure awaits another sector aligned with ready mixed concrete and concrete masonry.

The EPA’s final Brick and Structural Clay Products rule aims to limit emissions that occur during production of face or structural brick, brick pavers, clay pipe, roof tile and other brick products. The standards address maximum achievable control technology (MACT) emission limits for non-mercury HAP metals and mercury; health-based emission limits for acid gases for brick tunnel kilns; work practice standards for periodic kilns, dioxins/furans from tunnel kilns and periods of startup and shutdown for tunnel kilns; and, updated monitoring and compliance provisions. The latter include initial and five-year performance testing for the regulated pollutants, continuous parameter monitoring, and daily visible emissions checks.

Early in the “NESHAP for Brick and Structural Clay Products Manufacturing” or Brick MACT rule development, EPA noted that new kiln emissions thresholds and other requirements would see brick producers incur an estimated $55 million in capital costs, plus $18.4 million in annual compliance costs—against $24 million to $99 million in net public benefits. More recently, the Brick Industry Association pegs annual compliance costs a) at $100 million industry wide and, b) impossible for some small plants to meet. The 147 lbs. of emitted mercury the rule is expected to reduce nationally is about 1/400th the amount of the metal the EPA estimates as present in Americans’ dental fillings.

Alongside Brick MACT costs, brick makers face projected $900,000 per plant annual compliance costs pending the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final rule on crystalline silica exposure. In an astute report issued last month, “Regulatory Indifference Hurts Vulnerable Communities,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce probes EPA and OSHA rule tabs for an industry where a contingent of small producers operate alongside heavyweights Acme Brick, Boral USA, General Shale and Forterra Brick.

“Bureaucrats in Washington walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on bricks made by small, family-owned businesses without care for the companies and workers being destroyed by their careless regulations,” says Chamber Senior Vice President of Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs William Kovacs. “This report shows that it’s not just the large rules that affect American industry. With access to funding difficult for so many, even relatively obscure regulations can force small manufacturers to shutter their operations. An increasingly complex web of regulations is making it almost impossible for small businesses to survive.”

He and “Regulatory Indifference” co-authors visit Janet Whitacre Kaboth, chief executive officer of century-old Ohio producer Whitacre Greer Co. “For workers in local communities, particularly those employed by small businesses, new regulations developed using a ‘one size fits all’ model are a big problem,” she notes. “Federal agencies cannot simply assume that companies can afford to comply with regulatory requirements; that companies will be able to comply; or that the benefits of a rule will make it worthwhile. They need to understand the local impacts of their rules on real people whose lives may be ruined by losing their job.”

“These economically harmful regulations could be avoided if EPA conducted the type of in-depth employment analyses required of them,” Kovacs contends. “When crafting regulations, federal agencies should consider the impact to workers, businesses, and local communities, and balance those effects with public health and safety. One plant closing can set off a chain reaction in a small town.”

The Chamber-backed Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015, he adds, would improve the transparency of regulations by requiring agencies to invest more effort earlier in the rulemaking process to gather data, evaluate alternatives, and receive public input about proposed measures’ costs and benefits. “Regulatory Indifference” reminds pro-business, pro-worker candidates in this federal election cycle to consider a brick production line as the backdrop for a message supporting Regulatory Accountability and debunking federal regulators’ math.