Oct 01, 2015

EPA Sets National Limits to Reduce Pollutants Discharged by Steam Electric Power Plants

The rule is designed to reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants by 1.4 billion lb annually and water withdrawal by 57 billion gal per year

steam electric power plant toxic pollutant discharge limits EPA

The U.S. 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 lb annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gal per year, resulting in an estimated benefit of $463 million per year to Americans across the country. 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.

“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. “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 based on technologies that are readily available and broadly used in the industry, 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.

Each year, steam electric plants discharge nearly 65,000 lb of lead, 3,000 lb of mercury, 79,200 lb of arsenic, 225,000 lb of toxic selenium, 30.4 million lb of nitrogen; and 682,000 lb of phosphorus.

About 23,600 miles of rivers and streams are damaged by steam electric discharges, including 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 thirty percent of all toxic pollutants discharged into streams, rivers and lakes from permitted industrial facilities in the United States. 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.

There are approximately 1,080 steam electric power plants in the U.S. 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 megawatts.

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