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Coal Plant Wastewater Standards Finalized

THURSDAY, MAY 16, 2024

At the end of last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a set of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants while still delivering reliable electricity.

The agency explains that the standards are designed to work with the power sector’s planning processes, providing compliance timelines that enable power companies to plan in advance to meet electricity demand while reducing dangerous pollution.

“Today, EPA is proud to make good on the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision to tackle climate change and to protect all communities from pollution in our air, water, and in our neighborhoods,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

“By developing these standards in a clear, transparent, inclusive manner, EPA is cutting pollution while ensuring that power companies can make smart investments and continue to deliver reliable electricity for all Americans.”

The full suite of final rules includes:

  • A final rule for existing coal-fired and new natural gas-fired power plants that would ensure that all coal-fired plants that plan to run in the long-term and all new baseload gas-fired plants control 90% of their carbon pollution;
  • A final rule strengthening and updating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal-fired power plants, tightening the emissions standard for toxic metals by 67% and finalizing a 70% reduction in the emissions standard for mercury from existing lignite-fired sources;
  • A final rule to reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by more than 660 million pounds per year, ensuring cleaner water for affected communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns that are disproportionately impacted; and
  • A final rule that will require the safe management of coal ash that is placed in areas that were unregulated at the federal level until now, including at previously used disposal areas that may leak and contaminate groundwater.
Ivan Bandura / unsplash
At the end of last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a set of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants while still delivering reliable electricity.
Ivan Bandura / unsplash

At the end of last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a set of final rules to reduce pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants while still delivering reliable electricity.

Looking at wastewater specifically, the agency is strengthening discharge standards for coal-fired power plants under the Clean Water Act.

Power plants that burn coal to create electricity reportedly use large volumes of water. However, when this water is returned to lakes, streams and other waterbodies, it can carry pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, selenium, nickel, bromide, chloride, and iodide and nutrient pollution.

Consequently, exposure to these pollutants can harm people and ecosystems by contaminating drinking water sources, recreational waters and aquatic life.

The EPA’s final rule establishes technology-based discharge standards, known as Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs), for four types of wastewater:

  • Flue gas desulfurization wastewater;
  • Bottom ash transport water;
  • Combustion residual leachate; and
  • “Legacy wastewater” that is stored in surface impoundments (for example, coal ash ponds).

The agency’s final rule also reportedly includes implementation flexibilities for power plants. For example, the rule creates a new compliance path for electricity generating units that permanently stop burning coal by 2034.

These units will be able to continue meeting existing requirements instead of the requirements contained in this final regulation. In a separate action finalized last year, the EPA updated but maintained an existing provision allowing units to comply with less stringent standards if they will permanently stop burning coal by 2028.

Additionally, the EPA says it has determined that the final rule will have minimal effects on electricity prices after a rigorous analysis. This research reportedly showed that the final rule will provide billions of dollars in health and environmental benefits each year.

Modern Safety Techniques
NLB Corporation

Recent EPA Water Grants

Earlier this month, the EPA unveiled nearly $41 million in available funding from the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal grant to help address stormwater and sewer infrastructure needs.

APV Engineered Coatings
Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

The funding will reportedly be available to support projects in cities and towns that need to strengthen their stormwater collection systems and improve their resilience against intense rain events.  

The new grant program is expected to prioritize stormwater infrastructure projects in small or financially distressed and disadvantaged communities, preventing cost share requirements from being passed on to them.

Just Like New Overspray Management
Quikspray, Inc.

Additional funding for stormwater and wastewater upgrades will reportedly be available through President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law and the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.

Through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the EPA plans to provide $11.7 billion in total for states to upgrade wastewater infrastructure through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Additionally, the seventh round of the EPA’s WIFIA financing will be available—with $6.5 billion through WIFIA and $1 billion through SWIFIA.

Seymour Midwest
Rapid Prep, LLC

The EPA announced that it is now accepting letters of interest for WIFIA and SWIFIA, meant exclusively for state infrastructure financing authority borrowers.


Tagged categories: Coal ash; Energy efficiency; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Wastewater Plants; Water/Wastewater


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