EPA finalizes rule to reduce pollutants in waterways discharged from steam electric power plants
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that will reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants into America's waterways from steam electric power plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons per year.
WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 2, 2015 -- On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that will reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants into America's waterways from steam electric power plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons per year, resulting in an estimated benefit of $463 million per year to Americans across the country. The targeted toxic pollutants include mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium.
"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. "These cost-effective, achievable limits will provide significant protections for our children and communities across the country, including minority and low-income communities, from exposure to pollutants that can cause neurological damage in children, cancer, and other serious health problems."
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, reinforcing the ongoing trend towards cleaner, more modern plants. The standards provide flexibility in implementation through a phased-in approach, allowing plant owners to pursue integrated strategies to meet these requirements.
About 23,600 miles of rivers and streams are damaged by steam electric discharges, which include arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, cadmium, selenium, chromium, nickel, thallium, vanadium, zinc, nitrogen, chlorides, bromides, iron, copper, and aluminum. Steam electric power plant discharges occur upstream or close to 100 public drinking water intakes and in proximity to nearly 2,000 public wells across the nation.
Toxic metals do not break down in the environment and can contaminate sediment in waterways and impact aquatic life and wildlife, including large-scale die-offs of fish. Steam electric power plants account for about 30 percent of all toxic pollutants discharged into streams, rivers and lakes from permitted industrial facilities in the U.S. Due to their close proximity to these discharges and relatively high consumption of fish, some minority and low-income communities have greater exposure to, and are therefore at greater risk from, pollutants in steam electric power plant discharges.
EPA estimates that about 12 percent of the 1,080 steam electric power plants in the U.S. (an estimated 134) will have to make improvements in technology to comply with the rule. Many of these facilities are found in the states of the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. Which plants will need to update technologies will be determined by the plants themselves once they have had the opportunity to study and understand the rule's new requirements. The supporting technical documents for the final rule will be added to the docket when the final rule is published in the Federal Register.