Special Topics in Environmental Management

Steam Electric Power Plant Proposed Rule—Before and After


Steam Electric Power Plant Proposed Rule—Before and After

Right now, in the United States, there are approximately 1,200 steam electric power plants powered by nuclear or fossil fuels. Of these, about 500 are coal-fired and considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be the primary source of the pollutants addressed by the proposed rule. In total, 1,079 plants meet EPA’s requirements for coverage under the proposed effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs), although some may not have any of the covered wastestreams, may already be in compliance with the proposed regulations, or will be in compliance by the time the rule is finalized. As a result, the EPA estimates only about 290 facilities “are likely to achieve pollutant reductions as a result of the proposed ELGs.”

In general, the facilities are responsible for a range of pollutants, including mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, aluminum, zinc, manganese, and vanadium, and the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Due to a lack of up-to-date ELGs, the EPA credits steam electric power plants with contributing to more than 160 water bodies not meeting state water quality standards, 185 water bodies with fish consumption advisories, and the degradation of 399 water bodies that are used to supply drinking water.


Join us for our Steam Electric Effluent Limitations webinar December 17 to prepare your facility for the proposed regulations you’ll find most challenging. Learn more.


The EPA has proposed multiple options in the proposed rule for pollutant reduction, each of which would have a different impact on reducing industry pollutants. Overall, the EPA anticipates the new ELGs will significantly reduce pollutant discharges to U.S. waters and have the following impacts:

  • Depending on the regulatory option chosen, annual reductions in pollutant discharges would be 0.47 billion to 2.62 billion pounds;
  • Water withdrawals would be significantly reduced by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons, depending on the option;
  • Reduce and/or eliminate the generation of wet coal ash, reducing volumes stored in surface impoundments for control of ash transport water and, ultimately, minimize impacts that may occur from surface impoundment failures;
  • Reduce the occurrence of concentrations in excess of human health criteria for consumption of water and organisms;
  • Improve aquatic species habitats by reducing concentrations of toxic contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc in water;
  • Reduce nitrogen concentrations, which would be expected to enhance the quality and value of water-based recreation;
  • Estimated annualized social costs of between $185 million and $954 million per year, depending upon the preferred option; and
  • Estimated monetized benefits of $139 million to $483 million per year.

Steam Electric Effluent Limitations: How the EPA’s Final Rule May Impact Power Plants in 2015

Understand the EPA rule changes that lie ahead for steam electric effluent limitations and learn to develop a strategy that ensures compliance. Register now.


The EPA has also listed some of the other potentially important categories of benefits that could not be fully estimated, which include:

  • Downstream human health impacts (benefits are only estimated 1-10 kilometers (km) from the point of discharge);
  • Non-IQ impacts of mercury and lead that interfere with children’s ability to think and learn;
  • Lung and bladder cancers due to arsenic exposure; and
  • The effects of other pollutants such as boron, manganese, aluminum, vanadium, iron, nutrients, and total dissolved solids.