Biden-Harris Administration Proposes Stronger Water Pollution Standards for Power Plants

In March of 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced its proposal for strengthened wastewater discharge standards for coal-fired power plants. The proposal will apply the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority under the Clean Water Act to reduce discharges of toxic metals and other pollutants from these power plants into water bodies like lakes and streams, thereby supporting safe drinking water, agriculture, and healthy communities.

The Issue

Coal-fired power plants discharge large volumes of wastewater into waterways like lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. Unfortunately, the discharges often include pollutants like mercury, arsenic, selenium, nickel, bromide, chloride, nutrient pollution, and others. These pollutants can cause harm to people and wildlife if they get into drinking water sources, recreational waters, and other water bodies.

The EPA’s Solution

The EPA proposal would establish stronger discharge standards for three types of wastewaters generated at coal-powered power plants: flue gas desulfurization wastewater, bottom ash transport water, and combustion residual leachate. Additionally, the proposed rule addresses coal-fired power plant wastewater that is stored in surface impoundments like ash ponds. The proposal would define these wastewaters and seeks comment on whether to develop stronger discharge standards for them.

The Expected Result

EPA estimates their proposed rule would reduce pollution discharged from coal-powered power plant wastewater by around 584 million pounds per year. This would benefit communities across the country with more resilient water sources – particularly low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionally affected by pollution from coal-fired power plants.

“Ensuring the health and safety of all people is EPA’s top priority,” said Michael Regan, Administrator for EPA. “This proposed rule represents an ambitious step toward protecting communities from harmful pollution while providing greater certainty for industry. 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.”

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