EPA issues revised effluent guidelines for wastewater from steam plants

Published on November 05, 2019 by Dave Kovaleski

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed changes to the effluent guidelines for wastewater from steam electric power plants.

The proposed revisions are to the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Pretreatment Standards (ELGs), which limit wastewater discharges into surface waters and wastewater treatment plants. The rule, established in 2015, was subject to legal challenge and the agency received multiple petitions for administrative reconsideration, including a request for reconsideration from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

In response, EPA delayed the earliest compliance date from Nov. 1, 2018, to Nov. 1, 2020, to allow for reconsideration of the regulatory provisions. In their review of the challenges, the EPA reconsidered at the guidelines related to two specific waste streams produced by steam electric power plants: flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater and bottom ash (BA) transport water.

By leveraging newer and less costly pollution control technologies and adopting a phased-in implementation approach, the EPA says the proposed changes achieve greater pollution reductions at a lower cost than the original rule. EPA’s proposal is estimated to save more than $175 million annually in pre-tax compliance costs while reducing the amount of pollutants discharged by approximately 105 million pounds per year.

Specifically, the EPA is proposing revisions to the 2015 rule’s best available technology economically achievable (BAT) effluent limitations and pretreatment standards for FGD wastewater and BA transport water. The proposed rule would change the technology-basis for treatment of FGD wastewater and BA transport water; establish new compliance dates; revise the voluntary incentives program for FGD wastewater; and add subcategories for high-flow facilities, low-utilization units, and facilities nearing retirement.

The EPA has opened a 60-day public comment period on the proposal.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents electric companies, is among those stakeholders that will be reviewing the proposed changes.

“EEI appreciates the process the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is undertaking to reevaluate the technical requirements imposed on steam electric power generation facilities under the Clean Water Act,” EEI Vice President for Environment, Natural Resources, and Occupational Safety & Health Quin Shea said. “EEI member companies invest more than $100 billion annually to make the energy grid stronger, cleaner, smarter, more resilient, and more secure. The Clean Water Act requirements that advance environmental protections in a technologically and economically achievable manner are critical to EEI member companies’ ability to provide reliable, affordable, and increasingly clean energy to U.S. homes and businesses. EEI looks forward to analyzing the details of today’s proposed rule and to working with EPA and other stakeholders as the agency moves to finalize this key rulemaking.”

The EPA also proposed a regulation that applies to the management of coal combustion residuals (CCR) from electric utilities.