Environmentalists Praise Biden for Proposing Sharp Reductions in Water Pollution from Coal Power Plants

Advocates Plan to Urge Tighter Deadlines, Which Allow Some Plants to Continue Polluting until 2029

Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Integrity Project praised the Biden Administration EPA for proposing strong new limits on water pollution from coal-fired power plants that would eliminate more than 500 million pounds of contaminants per year.

“The coal industry has benefited from lax pollution controls for decades, and we are pleased that the EPA is finally requiring the industry to stop dumping toxic pollutants into our waterways,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “This is all required by law and should have happened years ago. The goal of the Clean Water Act is to eliminate water pollution. When the industry has access to technology capable of eliminating pollution, EPA must require the use of that technology.”

EPA’s proposed rules – called effluent limitation guidelines – for controlling water pollution from steam electric generating plants, one of largest industrial sources of water pollution in the U.S., can be found here. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations for 60 days.

Back in 2015, the Obama Administration proposed rules to reduce water pollution from coal-fired power plants, which the Trump Administration then rolled back in 2020. The new Biden EPA is now proposing a return to stronger rules, except with an extended deadline that pushes the compliance date from 2023 or 2025 to 2029.

“We will keep pushing for the industry to implement these upgrades as soon as possible – not in five or ten years, but this year or next year,” said Russ.

The new proposed regulations come at a time when most of the power industry is still operating under 1980s-era limits based on rudimentary settling pond treatment of wastewater. The new regulation would establish a zero-discharge standard for the industry’s two largest waste streams – wastewater from air pollution control devices called “scrubbers” or flue gas desulfurization (FGD) systems; and water from waste ash (bottom ash transport water). The regulations would also identify membrane filtration as the best available technology for treating scrubber wastewater.

Today’s proposal also includes new limits on leachate – wastewater seeping out of coal ash impoundments and landfills. The leachate limits were required by a federal appeals court after the Environmental Integrity Project and allies challenged EPA’s failure to update leachate limits in 2015.

EPA estimates that 69 to 93 power plants will have to make pollution control investments to comply with the rule.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 21-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org