EPA Sets Schedule for Potential ELG Rule Revision

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an official timeline for rulemaking that would potentially revise the Obama administration’s 2015 effluent limitations guidelines and standards (ELGs) for steam electric power plants.

In its May 2-released Final 2016 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan, the EPA said it will potentially revise the stringent Best Available Technology (BAT) effluent limitations and pretreatment standards for existing sources (PSES) as they apply to bottom ash transport water and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater in the September 2015-finalized rule, “Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category.”

Under the plan, a proposed rule is expected in December 2018, and a final rule will come by December 2019.

The schedule provides a sliver of certainty for the power industry, which has been preparing to comply with the 2015 ELG rule. That rule—which sought to amend an ELG rule last updated in 1982—set the first federal limits on levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from existing coal, gas, oil, and nuclear plants. The 2015 rule also set new requirements for wastewater streams from FGD, bottom ash transport water, fly ash transport, flue gas mercury control, gasification of coal and petroleum coke, and combustion residual leachate.

Plants had been expected to comply with the 2015 rule between 2018 and 2023, depending on when they need a new Clean Water Act permit. In April 2017, however, the Trump administration announced its intent to reconsider the 2015 rule, and in August, it announced rulemaking to potentially revise the BAT and PSES for bottom ash transport water and FGD wastewater. In September 2017, the EPA issued a final rule postponing compliance deadlines for the BAT effluent limitations and PSES for bottom ash transport water and FGD wastewater in the 2015 rule from November 1, 2018, to November 1, 2020.

As a number of power experts and wastewater technology vendors told POWER last month, regulatory uncertainty, along with changing resources, and an industrywide drive to cut costs and boost flexibility and efficiency have prompted new approaches to treat power plant wastewater (for more, see “Upheaval and Innovation in Wastewater Management,” in POWER’s May 2018 issue).

Under the Clean Water Act the EPA is required, after public review and comment, to publish a plan for new ELGs every two years. A preliminary 2016 plan was published in June 2016.

Along with identification of the new rule for steam electric power plants, the Final 2016 Plan concludes that it has completed “all previously identified effluent limitations guidelines and standards rulemaking actions,” and that “no other industries warrant new or revised effluent limitations guidelines and standards at this time.”

However, the plan notes that the EPA is initiating three new studies. One looks “holistically” at the management of oil and gas extraction wastewater from onshore facilities. The other two will study the extent to which nutrients and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are discharged from industrial categories. Finally, the plan notes that the EPA will continue, in more detail, study of the “Electrical and Electronic Components (E&EC) Point Source” category.

 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)