EPA Orders Reduction in Toxic Discharge by Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that will reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants into America’s waterways from steam electric power plants by 1.4 billion pounds annually, as well as reduce water withdrawal by 57 billion gallons per year, resulting in an estimated benefit of $463 million per year to Americans across the country.

Steam electric plants use nuclear or fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) to heat water in boilers, which generates steam. The steam is used to drive turbines connected to electric generators. The plants generate wastewater in the form of chemical pollutants and thermal pollution (heated water) from their water treatment, power cycle, ash handling and air pollution control systems, as well as from coal piles, yard and floor drainage, and other miscellaneous wastes.

“Today, EPA is setting the first national limits to protect public health and reduce toxic pollutants released into America’s waterways by steam electric power plants,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These cost-effective, achievable limits will provide significant protections for our children and communities across the country, including minority and low-income communities, from exposure to pollutants that can cause neurological damage in children, cancer, and other serious health problems.”

There are approximately 1,080 steam electric power plants in the U.S. There are 134 plants that will have to make new investments to meet the requirements of this rule. The new requirements do not apply to plants that are oil-fired or smaller than 50 megawatts.

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