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Biden-Harris Administration proposes stronger limits on water pollution from power plants

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World Coal,

The Biden-Harris Administration has announced that it is proposing to strengthen wastewater discharge standards that apply to coal-fired power plants.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal follows the latest science and applies EPA’s longstanding authority under the Clean Water Act to reduce discharges of toxic metals and other pollutants from these power plants into lakes, streams, and other waterbodies. The proposed rule would help protect our nation’s vital water resources that support safe drinking water, agriculture, and healthy communities while providing greater certainty for industry.

“Ensuring the health and safety of all people is EPA’s top priority, and this proposed rule represents an ambitious step toward protecting communities from harmful pollution while providing greater certainty for industry”, said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposed science-based limits will reduce water contamination from coal-fired power plants and help deliver clean air, clean water, and healthy land for all.”

Coal-fired power plants discharge large volumes of wastewater into waterways, such as: ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. The discharges include pollutants such as: selenium, mercury, arsenic, nickel, bromide, chloride and iodide, nutrient pollution, and total dissolved solids. Exposure to these pollutants can harm people and ecosystems through contamination of drinking water sources, recreational waters, and aquatic life.

EPA’s proposed rule would establish more stringent discharge standards for three types of wastewater generated at coal fired power plants: flue gas desulfurisation wastewater, bottom ash transport water, and combustion residual leachate. The proposed rule also addresses wastewater produced by coal fired power plants that is stored in surface impoundments (e.g. ash ponds). The proposal would define these ‘legacy’ wastewaters and seeks comment on whether to develop more stringent discharge standards for these wastewaters.

EPA is also proposing changes to specific compliance paths for certain ‘subcategories’ of power plants. The agency’s proposal would retain and refresh a compliance path for coal-fired power plants that commit to stop burning coal by 2028. The agency is issuing a direct final rule and parallel proposal to allow power plants to opt into this compliance path. Additionally, power plants that are in the process of complying with existing regulations and plan to stop burning coal by 2032, would be able to comply with the proposed rule.

EPA estimates that the proposed rule would reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by approximately 584 million lb/yr. This means that communities across the country would benefit from cleaner and more resilient water resources, especially low-income communities and communities of colour that are disproportionately impacted by pollution from coal-fired power plants.

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