March 9, 2023: On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency offered stricter limits on the way coal-fired power plants removed wastewater containing pollutants like arsenic and mercury, which have contaminated the rivers, streams and underground aquifers.
According to the agency, the proposed rule would reduce the discharge of pollutants into the waterways by nearly 584 million pounds every year. The reduction would benefit low-income communities and communities of colour that are disproportionately shown to power plant pollution.
The proposal follows the Trump administration’s 2020 weakened rules that required coal plants to treat polluted wastewater with current filtration methods and different technology before it was dumped into waterways.
Environmental situation argued that those regulatory rollbacks permitted the energy industry to use much lesser amounts and less effective ways to treat polluted wastewater and urged the Biden administration to strengthen release.
In 2021, the Biden administration stated that it was kicking off a new rulemaking journey to reverse the wastewater rollback and would reveal the recent requirements on wastewater by next fall. Meanwhile, many coal plants could dispose of toxic wastewater into waterways as the groups drafted new boundaries.
Power plants are responsible for 30% of all toxic pollution from industries discharged into the country’s waters. Pollutants in wastewater have spoiled drinking water sources, recreational waters and aquatic life all over the country.
The agency’s proposed rule would impose stringent standards for three types of wastewater starting at power plants and release toxic scrubber and bottom ash wastewater releases. The EPA estimates the suggested rule will collectively cost power plant operators about $200 million annually.
Holly Bender, senior director of energy programs at the Sierra Club, said the Biden administration’s proposed rule would hold utilities accountable for pollution.