USEPA Issues Final Wastewater Effluent Guidelines for Steam Electric Power Generating

Oct 26th, 2015 | By | Category: Environmental Management

EHS Journal - Iris with Water Drops by Greg Hurley

This article was adapted from the USEPA web site. Contact the editor if you would be interested in writing an easy-to-read analysis of this rule for publication in the EHS Journal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on September 30, 2015, finalized a rule revising the regulations for the Steam Electric Power Generating category. The rule sets the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from power plants, based on technology improvements in the steam electric power industry over the last three decades.

Facts and Figures

  • On an annual basis, the rule is projected to reduce the amount of toxic metals, nutrients, and other pollutants that steam electric power plants are allowed to discharge by 1.4 billion pounds and reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons.
  • Estimated annual compliance costs for the final rule are US$ 480 million.
  • Estimated benefits associated with the rule are US$ 451 to US$ 566 million.



Steam electric plant discharges include arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium, and cadmium. Many of these toxic pollutants, once in the environment, remain there for years.

The current regulations for the industry were last updated in 1982 and do not adequately address toxic metal discharges. The 1982 rule focused on settling out particulates rather than treating dissolved pollutants.

New technologies for generating electric power and the widespread implementation of air pollution controls over the last 30 years have altered existing wastewater streams or created new wastewater streams at many power plants, particularly coal-fired plants. The 2015 rule addresses these changes in the industry.

Certain coal-fired steam electric power plants will be affected by this rule. EPA estimates that about 12 percent of steam electric power plants will incur some costs.


Regulatory Requirements

The final rule sets new or additional requirements for wastewater streams from the following processes and byproducts:

  • flue gas desulfurization
  • fly ash
  • bottom ash
  • flue gas mercury control
  • gasification of fuels such as coal and petroleum coke


More Information

The final rule was signed by the EPA Administrator and is being prepared for publication.

Photograph: Iris with Water Drops by Greg Hurley.


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