Processing Magazine

EEI: EPA should work with power industry on revised wastewater guidelines

April 30, 2013
coal fired power plant
EEI said that on the surface the EPA's intention to revise wastewater standards for steam power plants has the potential to increase costs at a time when the industry is already dealing with other challenges.

According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should cooperate with investor-owned utilities when developing its plan to coordinate its expected new regulation on wastewater discharge standards for steam power plants with its proposal for the disposal of coal combustion waste from coal-fired plants.

Last week the EPA presented revised guidelines for steam electric effluent regarding the accepted concentration of certain chemicals in the water discharged into rivers. The guidelines set new limits on seven types of power plant wastewater streams and include different options relating to various waste streams. The new limits, which were presented earlier this year in draft form, apply to approximately 1,200 power plants across the United States which use nuclear or fossil fuels to produce steam and generate power. The process involves water which is turned into steam and results in wastewater that can damage waterways and the environment if it does not meet EPA requirements. The final standards are expected to be drawn by May next year and the EPA is hoping to receive feedback on the revised guidelines before that.

In its revision, the EPA put emphasis on making sure that the final rules provide the best possible protection of public health on the one hand, and are sensible and achievable for the industry on the other, the agency stated. It also announced that more than half of U.S. coal-fired power plants would comply with the new regulation without any additional costs being placed on businesses. The idea to coordinate the two separate guidelines would facilitate compliance, the agency stated. It explained that the coal combustion rule regarding the treatment of ash from coal-fired power plants has been under serious scrutiny. It is still unclear whether ash would be treated as a hazardous material, contrary to demands from the power industry and other sectors that it should be treated as non-hazardous.

The EPA has already suggested that it was willing to adopt the non-hazardous regulation for coal ash, a positive signal that the EEI welcomed. The institute stated that it hoped that the EPA would follow this path when deciding on the final rule.

Commenting on the new guidelines, the EEI said that on the surface the EPA's intention to revise wastewater standards for steam power plants presents businesses with more administrative burden and has the potential to increase costs at a time when the industry is already dealing with other challenges and has to adapt to new market and regulatory conditions, including the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards among other state and federal rules. According to EEI president Tom Kuhl, what the EPA was working on was a very complex rule and the institute was still reviewing the proposed guidelines.

Steam power plants generate almost 90 percent of U.S. power and imposing new rules should only happen after a careful consideration of costs, feasibility and compliance timeline, the EEI noted in its statement. The institute hoped for active and constructive engagement with the agency and federal officials, so that the new rules are economically viable and environmentally protective.