Powering Strong Communities

EPA Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Proposal is “Unwarranted Change of Course,” APPA Says

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to revise steam electric effluent limitation guidelines “represents an unwarranted change of course given wastewater treatment requirements were just imposed” in a prior ELG rule, the American Public Power Association said in May 30 comments submitted to the EPA.

“Public power utilities have been working diligently to comply with the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule in the midst of the electric power industries transitioning to low- and zero-carbon power while providing affordable and reliable energy,” APPA said. “This rulemaking threatens to disrupt those efforts by diverting time and money to a mid-course change unlikely to yield benefits commensurate with its costs.”

At issue is EPA’s proposed supplemental ELG and standards for the steam electric power generation point source category issued in March 2023.

A final 2015 ELG rule was challenged, and parts of the rule were remanded back to EPA. After 2015, EPA issued another proposal in 2019 which was finalized in 2020. The 2020 version revised the limit for certain waste streams -- the 2020 reconsideration rule.

In January 2021, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order 13990, calling on EPA, to, among other things, review the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule. In August 2021, EPA issued a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intent to issue the 2021 Supplemental Steam Electric Rulemaking.

EPA announced that it would undertake a rulemaking to revise the ELGs for electric generating units and intended to issue a proposed rule in the fall of 2022.

EPA has stated that both the 2015 Rule and 2020 Reconsideration Rule will remain in place during its review, APPA noted.

“EPA’s intent to revise a rule it has just finalized while industry is already complying with both the 2015 Rule and the 2020 Reconsideration Rule is problematic,” APPA said. “Compliance with the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule, requires costly treatment decisions and capital investments to have been made. To now go back and revisit the ELG Rule in the midst of industry compliance, seems arbitrary and will lead to confusion, stranded assets, and wasteful capital investments.”

In its comments, APPA recommended that EPA ensure the investments and commitments made to meet the requirements in the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule are preserved in any final rule. “In particular the proposed rule imposes a disproportionate burden on small public power utilities,” APPA said.

APPA also urged EPA to maintain the permanent cessation of coal combustion and low utilization subcategories from the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule. It said that the availability of these subcategories provides public power utilities with the flexibility to provide their communities with affordable and reliable electricity as the power sector transitions to low-emitting and cleaner generation.

In addition, APPA recommended EPA modify the “early adopter” subcategory to expand the qualification deadline or allow facilities to participate in the subcategory based on their permit applicability date or by the effective date of a final rule.

APPA said it does not support chemical precipitation plus membrane filtration technology as the best available economically technology for the treatment of flue gas desulfurization wastewater. “The record does not support the notion that the technology is available or the economically achievable due to EPA’s underestimated cost for brine management as well as fly ash availability,” it said.

At the same time, APPA said it supports the determination in the 2020 ELG Reconsideration Rule that BAT for bottom ash transport wastewater is a high recycle rate BATW system with a limited purge. “In addition, APPA does not believe that the dry handling or closed loop system is economically achievable and can serve as the BAT basis for the BATW ELGs under the new rule.”

APPA said EPA should not establish a national uniform treatment standard based on the use of chemical precipitation technology as the BAT for the discharges of combustion residual leachate from applicable facilities. “We believe that the differences in the amount of discharge flow and pollutant loadings are significant between active landfills, those nearing closure, and closed landfills.”

APPA does not believe CRL discharges via groundwater should be subject to ELG BAT limitations. It said that there already exist regulatory protections for those discharges via groundwater under the local, state, and federal rules and regulating those discharges under the national pollutant discharge elimination system permitting process is an unnecessary burden for many utilities.

EPA expects to issue a final rule in the spring of 2024.