Fighting City Hall

Columns From: Products Finishing, ,

Posted on: 4/1/2011

Mobilization of Products Finishing readers causes EPA to stop in its tracks.
At first, the comment about our coverage of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s fumbling of the new boiler and incinerator Clean Air Act rules was taken with a grain of salt.

At first, the comment about our coverage of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s fumbling of the new boiler and incinerator Clean Air Act rules was taken with a grain of salt.
 
For those of you keeping score at home, in the past half year we’ve chronicled the EPA’s attempt to regulate burn-off ovens (essentially abolishing them), and the resultant 5,000+ emails, faxes and phone calls sent to EPA offices that eventually forced the regulators to kill the new rules.
 
“I am sure your article and publication played a significant role in getting this overturned,” said an executive with an oven manufacturer.
 
Thanks, we said, but we’re just doing our job.
 
But then another business owner chimed in: “No doubt your content woke some people up,” he said.
 
That made us ponder: Just why did we need to awaken people to such dramatic government action seemingly drawn up to doom a large segment of the finishing industry? (Read about it in our News section on page 8). To get an answer to this question, we need to back up a few months to last fall, when we first came across what the EPA was doing in its efforts to respond to a lawsuit from the Sierra Club to tighten down the CAA rules. A federal judge was telling the EPA to get the rules in writing, firm them up and then go issue citations.
 
In its zest to please environmentalists and the judge, the EPA lumped burn-off ovens in with boilers and incinerators like those at major industrial manufacturing plants, solid waste handlers, and even nuclear power plants. There was no gray area; if you burned something, you were in.
 
The EPA claimed that there were only 36 or so burn-off ovens in the U.S., so no big deal to those companies that would need to spend close to $300,000 to retrofit their units. Except for the fact that there were probably more like 10,000+ or so ovens out there in the U.S.
 
When we started calling the EPA and asking them what exactly they were doing, they back-pedaled a bit. Startled would be more like it. “That many?” they asked. They truly had no clue.
 
We wrote about the impending regulations several times here in Products Finishing, then we posted it onto our monthly Products Finishing Digital Dispatch e-newsletter that goes to most all of our readers’ inboxes. We told people that the EPA was going to impose the rules starting in December, and then we sorta mentioned that the EPA might be interested to know how many burn-off ovens there actually were in existence, and oh, by the way, here’s the email and telephone number just in case you might want to let them know what you think of this whole mess.
 
And then a funny thing happened. Actually, it happened about 5,000 times. The emails started rolling in, the faxes started spitting out, the letters arrived, and the phone calls were placed. People in the finishing business said, “No way.”
 
When I checked in with the EPA folks at the end of last year, they weren’t entirely happy to hear from me. They said that because of the deluge of comments (which all came in after the comment period was officially over), they were going to “revisit” the issue. Actually, this is where you must applaud the bureaucrats at the EPA who held up their hands and said “Wait!”
 
Then the EPA did a remarkable thing. They went to the federal judge who was tapping his feet in angst waiting for them to conclude their dumb old public hearings and public comment period and get on with writing those darn regulations and the EPA admitted this: They made a serious error.
 
The EPA asked a judge to hold off for a year or so on invoking these rules while it sorted out the situation of how many burn-off ovens there actually were, and how these rules would affect those owners and their employees. The judge said no, you’ve taken too long. The EPA took the proposed burn-off oven rules out.
 
So over the next few days when word spread, a few well-known business owners congratulated us on our coverage of the issue and the role we played in being watch-dogs over the EPA. Thanks, we said, just doing our jobs.
 
But the real thanks goes to the Products Finishing readers who mobilized, forwarded our Products Finishing Digital Dispatch, faxed copies of our articles, and then encouraged everyone they knew at local associations, national meetings and competitors whom they probably have not spoken to in years to call the EPA and say “No way.”
 
Can you still fight city hall? I think our readers know they can. Nice job. n
 
 

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