News Feature | November 26, 2013

EPA Rulemaking Aims To Protect Water From Power Plant Pollution

By Sara Jerome


The EPA is writing regulations aimed at protecting water from the effects of power plant emissions. 

"Power plant discharges can have major impacts on water quality, including reduced organism abundance and species diversity, contamination of drinking water sources, and other effects," according to government documents. 

The pollutants of concern include metals (e.g., mercury, arsenic, and selenium), nutrients, and total dissolved solids, the document said. 

The proposal "was prompted by a successful 2012 lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife that compelled the EPA to revise its clean water standards for power plants," according to the Center For Effective Government, an ethics group. 

Four years ago, an EPA study found that the current standards, which were last updated in 1982, "do not adequately control these pollutants and have not kept pace with changes in the electric power industry over the last three decades," the center said. "The new proposed rule would reduce pollution by updating technology-based limits and standards that apply to wastewater discharged to surface waters."

The water industry is watching this docket closely. The American Water Works Association submitted comments to the EPA saying rising bromide levels should be considered. 

"There is clear evidence from community drinking water systems in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania that steam electric power plant wastewater discharges are elevating bromide levels in surface waters. The level of bromide resulting from some power plants is sufficient to result in dramatic increases in regulated brominated disinfection byproducts in downstream water supplies," the comment said. 

The New York Times explained that reducing air pollution from coal-powered plants has not coincided with a drop in water pollution by these plants. 

"While some regulators have used laws like the Clean Water Act to combat pollution, many plants have repeatedly violated that law without incurring fines," the report said. 

The EPA's early efforts on this topic can be found here. For previous Water Online coverage of coal and its effects on water, click here

Image credit: "Long Eaton Coal Plant," © 2013 lewismd13, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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