Power producers must curb the tainted water they discharge into waterways under a proposal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued today, the latest in a series of rules aimed at utilities that burn coal.
The EPA proposed four options for regulating the toxic-waste disposal from power plants, which are the top source of pollutants in streams, rivers and other waters. The final rules would have the most impact on coal-fired plants, which are the primary source of the pollutants, and would be phased in beginning in 2017.
“Reducing the pollution of our waters through effective but flexible controls such as we are proposing today is a win-win for our public health and our economic vitality,” Bob Perciasepe, the EPA acting administrator, said in a statement.
The Sierra Club, which sued the EPA to issue these rules, urged the agency to adopt the strongest of the four proposals and said the announcement is an important step forward.
“When finalized in their strongest form, the Environmental Protection Agency’s commonsense and affordable standards will save lives, prevent children from getting sick, and ensure our water is safe to drink and our fish safe to eat,” Michael Brune, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
EPA estimates that the regulations would reduce pollutant discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds annually and reduce the utilities’ water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons per year.
The new regulations on water discharges will add to EPA measures on coal-fired generators issued since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The administration’s most-expensive rule would cut mercury and other toxic air emissions from such plants. The measure proposed today would prevent similar minerals, arsenic and mercury, in water releases from the plants.
Depending on how the final rules are drafted, which is scheduled to come next year, they could require millions of dollars in spending to upgrade individual plants, company lobbyists said in a document provided at a meeting with White House officials last month and posted on the website of the Office of Management and Budget.
Coal is under mounting pressure from cheap natural gas, tougher federal pollution standards and state-level energy efficiency requirements. The Sierra Club’s coal campaign in early March said more than 142 plants has been closed. American Electric Power Co. in February said it would shut three plants.