EPA proposes water pollution rule for power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will take comments on a range of options to help reduce mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium released into waterways by power plants, including through coal ash and air emissions control waste.

The four preferred options differ in the number of waste streams covered (such as fly ash handling systems, treatment of emissions control waste and bottom ash), the size of the units controlled and the strictness of the treatment controls to be imposed.

"America's waterways are vital to the health and well-being of our communities," said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "Reducing the pollution of our waters through effective but flexible controls such as we are proposing today is a win-win for our public health and our economic vitality. We look forward to hearing from all stakeholders on the best way forward."

The proposal updates standards that have been in place since 1982, EPA said in a release, and incorporates technology improvements in the steam electric power industry as required by the Clean Water Act. The new requirements would be phased in between 2017 and 2022, and are based on data collected from industry.

EPA says there are about 1,200 steam electric power plants that generate electricity using nuclear, coal, oil or natural gas in the U.S. About 500 of them are coal-fired units, which is the primary source being addressed by the regulation. The agency said it would align this rule with a related coal combustion residuals, or coal ash, rule proposed in 2010. Both rules would apply to many of the same facilities. Plants smaller than 50 MW would not be impacted.

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