By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will propose a long-delayed rule this week that aims to slash emissions of mercury, soot and lead from boilers and incinerators, a measure opposed by heavy industry and by Republicans in Congress.
"EPA intends to issue the Boiler MACT rule proposal for public comment on Friday," an agency spokeswoman said in an email on Wednesday.
The rule, which the EPA delayed in May, has been opposed by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted in October to delay the EPA pollution limits on boilers. But the bill faces a difficult fight in the Democratic-led Senate, and the White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the measure.
Industry groups say the rule, which would limit emissions at nearly 14,000 boilers, would cost billions of dollars and kill jobs. The American Forest and Paper Association, for example, said in a paper the rule could cost more than 20,000 jobs.
But the EPA says reducing the harmful emissions would save much more money in health costs and lost work time from asthma and other illnesses.
The administration was slammed by environmentalists after Obama ordered the EPA in September to delay a major rule on smog emissions.
Green groups expressed support for the EPA moving forward with the boiler rule, which would be open to a public comment period before being implemented.
"It's excellent the EPA is opening this process to get as much information as they can from industry to learn how to implement the rule," said Frank O'Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch.
The boiler rule could also benefit companies that build boilers, such as Babcock and Wilcox Co.
The EPA is expected to finalize a similar rule limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants by December 16.
Separately, the public comment period on an EPA rule to slash smog-forming and benzene emissions from natural gas and oil fracking operations ended on Wednesday. Environmental groups said some 156,000 private citizens filed comments with the EPA over the rule, which the EPA delayed by about a month to get more comments. The EPA is under court order to finalize that rule by April 3, 2012.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Marguerita Choy)