New Federal Rules Target Waste Disposal Standards

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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 ash dumps.

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.