EEI says EPA's effluent guidelines put pressure on power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) proposed revisions to its current steam electric effluent limitation guidelines would set new limits on seven types of power plant wastewater streams.

The revisions would potentially affect the industry's existing steam generation fleet, including nuclear, natural gas and oil-based plants, with the largest impact on coal-based generation.

At first glance, EPA's proposal to revise its wastewater standards for steam-electric power plants holds the potential to add a financial and operational burden to an industry already in transition and facing numerous other challenges, according to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).

"This is a very complex rulemaking, and we're still in the process of reviewing EPA's proposed guidelines," said EEI President Tom Kuhn. "The new guidelines come at a time when the industry is already adapting to EPA's new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) and other new federal and state rules. Many power plant operators are in the process of transitioning to meet new standards, including extensive and expensive retrofits at coal plants, retirement of some units, and fuel switching from coal to gas-based generation. We look forward to working with EPA to develop a final rule that achieves the goal of cleaner water, while minimizing the economic impact on the industry and its customers.

"EPA also has indicated it intends to coordinate the proposed new ELGs with its coal combustion residual (CCR) rules," Kuhn said. "We appreciate this, and the agency's suggestion that it has moved toward adopting non-hazardous regulations for CCRs. EEI supports the regulation of CCRs as non-hazardous waste and Congressional efforts to establish environmentally protective, Subtitle D regulations implemented through enforceable permits. EEI expects the agency to follow through on this positive signal in the final rule."

Electric generating plants that rely on steam are capital-intensive and complex, and they are integral components of our nation's electric supply — generating almost 90 percent of the nation's electricity. Before imposing substantial new requirements, it's necessary to fully take into account their cost, technological feasibility, energy and environmental impacts, and the need for appropriate compliance timelines.

EPA intends to complete the rulemaking by May 22, 2014.

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