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EPA proposes options for regulating wastewater discharges from power plants

From the April 24, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published April 24, 2013

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed eight options—four are preferred by EPA—for regulating pollutants in wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants. The proposed Clean Water Act rule would affect about 1,200 nuclear- and fossil-fueled power plants greater than 50 megawatts, and would establish new or additional requirements for wastewater streams from flue gas desulfurization, fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas mercury control, and gasification of fuels such as coal and petroleum coke. EPA said it would require compliance "as soon as possible" after July 1, 2017, but with a deadline of July 1, 2022. The agency will take comments on all of the options.

The proposed regulatory options differ in the number of waste streams covered, the size of the units controlled, and the stringency of the controls that would be imposed. The agency projects different levels of pollutant reduction and cost associated with these alternatives. EPA said the proposed options would reduce pollutant discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds annually and reduce water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons per year at affected steam electric power plants. 

Compliance with the proposed regulation "would be economically achievable," according to EPA. The estimated annual cost for the proposed options would range between $185 million and $954 million, the agency said. Cost and economic impact assessments of two of the regulatory options "show very small effects on the electricity market, on both a national and regional sub-market basis," EPA said. "Electricity rates are projected to stay well within normal historical fluctuations."

No coal-fired plants are projected to close as a result of this rule and fewer than half of coal-fired plants are estimated to incur costs under any of the proposed preferred options, because many power plants already have the technology and procedures in place to meet the proposed pollution control standards, EPA said. 

EPA said it intends to align the effluent rule with a related rule for coal combustion residuals (also known as coal ash) that was proposed in 2010 under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The two rules would apply to many of the same facilities and would work together to reduce pollution associated with coal ash and related wastes, the agency said. EPA is seeking comment from industry and other stakeholders "to ensure that both final rules are aligned to reduce pollution efficiently and minimize regulatory burdens."

The public comment period on the proposed rule will be open for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The agency is under a consent decree to issue a final rule by May 22, 2014. The proposed rule (and background information) is available on EPA’s website.


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro