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EPA reconsiders rules

May 17, 2017   By Jay Hudson in Environmental Stewardship

Just last month, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to reconsider the Effluent Limitations Guidelines Rule for Steam Electric Generators.

This rule, which was made final in 2015 and was to take effect after 2019, would lower the water discharge limits primarily for coal-fired power stations. This reconsideration was part of the new administration’s regulatory reform agenda, which I discussed in an April 5 blog.

There is little question that these guidelines need updating. But there is considerable industry opinion that this rule perhaps went overboard in requiring very restrictive limits for some waste streams that may not even be achievable at this time – even with the best available technology.  As a further example, power effluent limits were set at less than one-tenth of the metal limits of hazardous waste incinerators.

For example, metal limits were set such that the only way to achieve them was to use some type of organism (bacteria, algae) to absorb the metals for the final treatment. This falls into the general “90/10 rule,” whereby 90 percent removal is cost effective, but it would take experimental technology to make it the rest of the way, thus costing power customers greatly for yet unproven technology.

The Utility Solid Waste Group just last week filed a request to reconsider the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, which sets stringent deadlines to close coal ash impoundments. There is little argument that some of these impoundments should be closed.

However, other impoundments have caused little impact and have been in place for decades. Extending these deadlines, even for only five to 10 years, would allow for recycling ash into cement and other building products.

If ash isn’t recycled, cement manufactures must replace it with clay, which opens up more mines and borrow pits with potential wetland impacts, and other environmental shortcomings. Also, the ash is removed from the site and encapsulated in cement. 

A sensible, transparent and technology-based review is warranted and can save consumers without impact to the environment.