U.S. EPA Proposes to Weaken Regulations on Coal Ash, Wastewater From Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 4 issued two proposals that would ease the Obama administration’s 2015 regulations governing the disposal of coal ash, a toxic product of coal combustion, and wastewater management from steam electric power plants.

The first proposal sets a new date of Aug. 31, 2020 for facilities to begin closure or retrofit of unlined surface impoundments containing coal ash and located near aquifers. Under the original 2015 rule, unlined coal ash ponds were to begin closing in 2018. The revisions would allow some plants up to five more years before they begin shutting down these ponds. Regulations governing coal combustion residuals, which contain metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury, were prompted by a catastrophic spill in 2008, in Tennessee, that flooded more than 300 acres of land and released coal ash into nearby rivers.

The second one, which proposes updates to the effluent guidelines affecting wastewater management from steam electric power plants, would relax some pollution limits and extend the compliance deadline by two years. EPA estimates that the changes would save more than 175 million annually in pre-tax compliance costs and reduce the amount of pollutants discharged into the nation’s waters by about 100 million pounds per year. The agency attributes the benefits to less costly flue gas desulfurization wastewater technologies to comply with the proposed less stringent selenium limit, as well as bottom ash transport water technologies to meet the proposed relaxation of the requirement to recycle 100 percent of the system water. A voluntary incentives program would provide the certainty of more time until Dec. 31, 2028 to implement new requirements for plants that adopt additional process changes and controls that achieve more stringent limitations on certain pollutants.

The EPA is seeking input on the proposals through two concurrent 60-day comment periods. The agency will hold an online public hearing on the effluent rule on Dec. 19.