EPA Initiates Rule Making Process to Address Water Pollution From Power Plants

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a press release announcing that it plans to “bolster limits on water pollution” for power plants.  The agency said it is starting the rulemaking process for a new rule and also re-introducing aspects of coal power plant discharge limits created during President Obama’s administration, while keeping President Trump’s 2020 rule in place. 

The release explained that the EPA reviewed the 2020 Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule, as directed through an executive order, and found that wastewater discharge limits could be strengthened. It cited potential use of membrane treatment systems, which could treat multiple types of industrial pollution, and said the EPA expects this type of system to improve further and will consider it in the rule making. 

“EPA is committed to science-based policy decisions to protect our natural resources and public health,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the press release. “In conducting a review of the 2020 rule as directed by President Biden, EPA determined that moving forward with implementing the existing regulations would ensure that water resources are protected now, while we quickly move to strengthen water quality protections and further reduce power plant pollution that can contain toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium.”

The press release explained that the 2020 rule made some modifications to the 2015 Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines rule, and that currently both rules are in effect. “The current requirements provide significant environmental protections relative to a 1982 rule that would otherwise be in effect,” the EPA explained. It claimed that these two rules help control water pollution from power plants and reduce “the cost of controls such as biological treatment systems and membrane treatment systems.” 

In addition to the press release, the EPA issued a notice in the federal register which initiates the process and the EPA plans to seek public comment through fall 2022.

The EPA cited that the proposed rules could have an impact on a current Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals lawsuit and said it, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice, is filing a request to put a hold on that lawsuit.