EPA proposing new power plant water quality standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a regulation that would strengthen the controls on discharges from certain steam electric power plants by revising technology-based effluent limitations guidelines and standards for this point source category.

“Steam electric power plants alone contribute 50-60 percent of all toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters by all industrial categories currently regulated in the United States under the Clean Water Act,” said the agency in a rule proposal to be published in the June 7 Federal Register.

“Furthermore, power plant discharges to surface waters are expected to increase as pollutants are increasingly captured by air pollution controls and transferred to wastewater discharges,” the agency added. “This proposal, if implemented, would reduce the amount of toxic metals and other pollutants discharged to surface waters from power plants.”

EPA said it is considering several regulatory options in this rulemaking and has identified four preferred alternatives for regulation of discharges from existing sources. These four alternatives differ with respect to the scope of requirements that would be applicable to existing discharges of pollutants found in two wastestreams generated at power plants.

The preferred options for this proposed rule would annually reduce pollutant discharges by 0.47 billion to 2.62 billion pounds, reduce water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons, cost $185m to $954m, and would be economically achievable, the agency said.

EPA will conduct a public hearing on the proposed pretreatment standards on July 9 in the EPA East Building in Washington, DC.

The proposed regulations would strengthen the controls on discharges from steam electric power plants by revising the technology-based effluent discharges to surface waters (i.e., direct discharges) and to publicly owned treatment works.

The four preferred alternatives propose the same requirements for most wastestreams, but differ in the requirements that would be established for discharges associated with two wastestreams from existing sources. EPA also projects different levels of pollutant reduction and cost associated with these alternatives.

Current water quality regulations are outdate, the agency says

The current regulations, which were last updated in 1982, do not adequately address the toxic pollutants discharged from the electric power industry, nor have they kept pace with limitations guidelines and standards that apply to wastewater process changes that have occurred over the last three decades, EPA wrote.

The development of new technologies for generating electric power (such as coal gasification) and the widespread implementation of air pollution controls (such as flue gas desulfurization (FGD), selective catalytic reduction (SCR), and flue gas mercury controls (FGMC)), have altered existing wastestreams or created new wastewater streams at many power plants.

In general, depending on the option, the proposed rule would establish new or additional requirements for wastewaters associated with the following processes and byproducts: FGD, fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas mercury control, combustion residual leachate from landfills and surface impoundments, nonchemical metal cleaning wastes, and gasification of fuels such as coal and petroleum coke.

In addition to the proposed requirements, as part of this rulemaking EPA said it is considering establishing best management practices (BMP) requirements that would apply to surface impoundments containing coal combustion residuals (e.g., ash ponds, FGD ponds).

EPA is also considering establishing a voluntary program that would provide incentives for existing power plants that dewater and close their surface impoundments containing combustion residuals, and for power plants that eliminate the discharge of all process wastewater (excluding cooling water discharges).

Depending on the option, EPA is proposing to revise or establish Best Available Technology Economically Achievable (BAT), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), Pretreatment Standards for Existing Sources (PSES) and Pretreatment Standards for New Sources (PSNS) that apply to discharges of pollutants found in the following wastestreams: FGD wastewater, fly ash transport water, bottom ash transport water, combustion residual leachate from landfills and surface impoundments, nonchemical metal cleaning wastes, and wastewater from flue gas mercury control (FGMC) systems and gasification systems.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.