Power Plants Get Two-Year Reprieve for Parts of Wastewater Rule

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By Amena H. Saiyid

Power plants won’t have to meet new limits until 2020 on toxic wastewater that comes from using air pollution control systems and transporting bottom furnace ash, the EPA announced Sept. 13.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it was postponing by two years compliance dates that would be required of more than 1,000 power plants nationwide, as it reconsiders how strictly it should limit those two sources of wastewater.

The postponement, requested by electric power utilities, applies to new Obama-era limits on wastewater generated by transporting bottom ash and by operating flue gas desulfurization (scrubber) units used to capture sulfur dioxide emissions from burning petroleum coke and coal.

Bottom ash transport wastewater refers to the water that power plants use to collect, cool, and convey ash and other slag from the bottom of a boiler to other parts of the utility for treatment.

These two sources of wastewater would make up 87 percent of the toxic pollutants removed by power plants, if the agency had chosen to implement the 2015 Obama rule as finalized.

The agency’s final unpublished rule follows public comments submitted on a proposal to postpone the 2015 rule’s compliance deadlines for all six categories of wastewater containing arsenic, selenium, nitrates, mercury, zinc, and other pollutants that power plants nationwide discharge. The rule will take effect upon publication in Federal Register.

Four Other Waste Streams Unaffected

The compliance deadlines for the two waste streams will be pushed back to Jan. 1, 2020. The rule’s deadlines for the four other sources of toxic wastewater—fly ash, mercury controls, gasification, and coal ash landfills—will still start Jan. 1, 2018.

A national industry group representing power plant operators, including subsidiaries of Ameren Corp. and American Electric Power, sought a deadline extension because the EPA is revising parts of a 2015 rule setting effluent limits for technology they would be required to use to treat the wastewater (RIN: 2040-AF14). The industry had pushed for the rewrite, arguing that the EPA used outdated and incomplete data to set standards for these two waste streams.

American Electric Power didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, had commented on the postponement at a July 31 hearing at EPA headquarters. At that time, Rich Bozek, the institute’s director of environmental and health and safety policy, urged the EPA to postpone the deadlines for the two waste streams.

“Without a postponement, electric companies will continue to invest millions of dollars to plan for compliance with a rule that ultimately may change significantly,” Bozek said. “That would be a waste of electric company and customer resources, and it would force electric companies to make decisions about generation fleet investments and closures based on incorrect and incomplete information.”

Delay Expected

Environmental groups opposed to the agency’s decision to rewrite the 2015 rule weren’t surprised by the postponement. They already are involved in suing the EPA over its initial decision to reconsider the rule without public comment.

“EPA has chosen to delay two of the most significant sources of toxic pollutants,” Casey Roberts, a senior attorney with Sierra Club, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 13.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg L.P. Bloomberg BNA is an affiliate of Bloomberg L.P.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The EPA final rule postponing compliance is available at http://src.bna.com/swi.

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