EPA rule targets waterway pollution from power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Sept. 30 that it has finalized a rule that will reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants into waterways from steam power plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons per year.

EPA estimated utility industry compliance cost of $480m per year for the Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines. EPA said that compliance is doable with affordable technologies that are widely available, and already in place at some plants.

It’s a move toward “cleaner, more modern power plants,” EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Ken Kopocis said during a brief conference call with reporters. “The standards will be phased in over time” — from 2018 through 2023, Kopocis said.

The timetable was selected to coordinate it with the coal combustion rule, the EPA water official said.

EPA said this will result in an estimated benefit of $463m nationally. Toxic pollutants include mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium, which can cause neurological damage in children, lead to cancer, and damage the circulatory system, kidneys, and liver.

There are approximately 1,080 steam electric power plants in the United States. There are 134 plants that will have to make new investments to meet the requirements of this rule. The new requirements do not apply to plants that are oil-fired or smaller than 50 MW.

Certain coal-fired steam electric power plants will be affected by this rule. EPA estimates that about 12% of steam electric power plants will have to make new investments to meet the new requirements of this rule.

Generally, the final rule would establish new or additional requirements for wastewater streams from the following processes and byproducts associated with steam electric power generation: flue gas desulfurization, fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas mercury control, and gasification of fuels such as coal and petroleum coke.

“Today, EPA is setting the first national limits to protect public health and reduce toxic pollutants, including mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium released into America’s waterways by steam electric power plants,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The final Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines are strong but reasonable– based on technologies that are readily available and broadly used in the industry today, EPA said in the news release.

The effective date of the rule will be 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.


About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.