Last month, the Bloomberg administration proposed new rules for boiler heating oils that would phase out the dirtiest types of oils, No. 4 and No. 6, by 2015, thus reducing soot pollution by 63 percent. While the regulations are a huge step forward in cleaning New York City’s air, some believe that the rules are not strict enough. In a public hearing yesterday, Jason Schwartz, a legal fellow at the Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law, pointed out that exemptions in the rules would allow for the oils to be burned through 2030.
Schwartz argues that exemptions and leniency toward building owners create an unnecessarily long timeline for removing the dirty oils. The Health Department believes the proposed regulations would prevent 200 deaths, 100 hospitalizations, and 300 emergency room visits each year, but a study co-authored by Schwartz found that these numbers are only relevant if a full conversion from dirty oil to clean oil or natural gas happened immediately.
“The rules’ timing matters: every year quicker that full conversion is achieved could prevent an additional 28 mortalities,” said Schwartz in prepared remarks. “The DEP has not demonstrated that the time horizon it selected is the most efficient.”
Between 9,000 and 10,000 big buildings in New York burn the dirtiest types of oil. The harmful residual oils are No. 6, the cheapest but most viscous type used in aging boilers, and No. 4, which is only slightly less poisonous than No. 6. Air pollution from these oils can irritate the lungs and worsen conditions like asthma and emphysema as well as increase the risk of heart attack and premature death. The proposed rules piggy-back off recently passed clean air legislation: state laws that lowered the sulfur content in No. 2 oil (the most common kind) by 99 percent, and city laws requiring the sulfur content in No. 4 to be halved and biodiesel to be used for at least 2 percent of all heating oils.
The proposed rules restrict the use of No. 4 and No. 6 oils in both new and existing boilers, but treat them very differently. The regulations require that all newly installed boilers must meet or exceed the regulations for No. 2 oil. But Schwartz points out that multiple exceptions delay implementing the requirements for existing boilers. The exceptions could allow for No. 6 oil to be used through 2015, and No. 4 oil to be used through 2033. At that point, certificates of operation would not be renewed unless boilers meet the requirements for No. 2 oil.
The Institute for Policy Integrity argues that the DEP made their decision not based on efficiency, but because the lenient approach will avoid forcing building owners to upgrade before a boiler’s expected retirement date.
“While the proposed rule is another step in the right direction toward cleaner air for New York City,” said Schwartz, “the DEP has ignored the net benefits that more stringent policy alternatives could deliver.”