EPA Finalizes Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines

EPA Finalizes Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines
Wisconsin Power & Light's coal-fired Columbia Energy Center is currently undergoing upgrades to increase the plant's operating capacity by 10 percent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized a rule reducing the discharge of toxic pollutants from steam electric power plants into the country’s waterways. New mandates will decrease permissible discharge of toxins including mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce the withdrawal of water by 57 billion gallons per year.

The new rule will affect 134 power plants across the country, requiring them to make new investments to comply with the mandate.

According to the EPA, steam electric power plants annually discharge almost 65,000 pounds of lead and 3,000 pounds of mercury -- chemicals known to decrease the IQs of exposed children -- into the environment. These plants also release 79,200 pounds of carcinogenic arsenic, 225,000 pounds of selenium that is deadly to fish and 30.4 million pounds of nitrogen that compromises water quality.

These toxic metals do not break down in the environment.

About 23,600 miles of rivers and streams are currently damaged by steam electric discharges, according to the EPA, and discharges frequently occur upstream of intakes for public drinking water and in proximity to public wells across the country.

The new limitations are intended to reduce the impact of such discharges on the environment and human health.

“These cost-effective, achievable limits will provide significant protections for our children and communities across the country, including minority and low-income communities, from exposure to pollutants that can cause neurological damage in children, cancer, and other serious health problems,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The effective date of the rule will be 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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