New Federal Rules Target Waste Disposal Standards
30 September 2015
By Don Hopey
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday issued the
first federal rules aimed at reducing toxic water discharges into
lakes, rivers and streams from coal-fired power plants and coal
The regulation will eliminate most releases of ash-contaminated
wastewater, require treatment of sludge and cut discharges of
toxic heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium
by 1.4 billion pounds a year, according to the EPA, producing
health benefits totaling $463 million annually.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in a press release announcing the
new regulations Wednesday, said the limits on power plant water
discharges will be phased in and provide public health benefits.
“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,” Ms. McCarthy said.
“Today’s rule will make a huge dent in the nation’s largest source
of toxic water pollution,” said Abel Russ, attorney for the
Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C. environmental
organization.. “This is a significant step forward, and it will
directly benefit human health and the environment.”
The EIP and other environmental organizations sued the EPA in 2009
to prompt the agency to issue the regulations.
Mr. Russ said the coal industry and electric power utilities been
operating under 30-year-old waste disposal standards that he
termed “primitive” and “highly polluting.”
“The new EPA standards,” he said, “simply require the industry to
catch up and install modern, affordable technology.”
FirstEnergy, the Akron, Ohio-based utility, released a statement
saying it is reviewing the regulation, but added it is
“well-positioned to meet the new requirements for fly ash, since
they address water discharges from wet transport of fly ash and
all of FirstEnergy’s fly ash transport is dry.”
There are approximately 1,080 coal-fired steam power plants
operating in the U.S., and the new rules will require 134 of those
to invest in new pollution control equipment.
The EPA said about 23,000 miles of rivers and streams nationwide
have been damaged by coal-fired power plant discharges that occur
upstream from 100 public drinking water intakes and near
approximately 2,000 public water wells.
Tom Schuster, the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania representative for
its “Beyond Coal Campaign,” said the new regulation will push
power plants like the one on Brunner Island on the Susquehanna
River in York County, which is in the midst of a permit renewal
process, to clean up their water discharges.
“These strong, common sense safeguards will protect the health of
our families and ensure clean and safe water is a human right for
every Pennsylvanian,” Mr. Schuster said.
The new regulations go into effect 60 days after they are printed
in the Federal Register.